I was getting my nails done the other day and one of lovely nail techs happened to be pregnant. Very pregnant. Yet she continues to come to work every day, grooming feet and breathing in acetone, acrylic and other nail related fumes. I was pretty impressed that the nail tech still came in and did her job to the best of her physical ability as long as she could.
So why do women in sports like Lisa Leslie (taking a year off) and Lindsay Davenport (who is missing a season and may be retiring) get to take off so much time when they have children?
Now if you're rich or otherwise have it like that and can afford to take off work for extended periods of time, great. However, as someone who is in favor of gender integration in sports where it is at all possible, I don't think it sets a positive precedent for women trying to follow in these ladies' footsteps when they let pregnancy interfere with the commitment they made to sports.
First, let me state the obvious. A woman is going to be physically unable to compete in a sport for a portion of the pregnancy. And a woman should never unreasonably place her baby in harm's way. Having a baby is a great physical effort and a woman has to be allowed to nurture the baby pre-natally and physically recover and recondition after the birth.
That said, if a male athlete can play hurt, female athletes can at least play pregnant (and they should have the right to do so for their respective organizations, but that's another article).
Although I wouldn't necessarily take it this far, University of Louisville basketball player Connie Neal played until she was 8 months pregnant. Diving for balls, lifting weights, the whole nine. She did this, in part, because she was afraid of losing her scholarship. But she dropped that kid and six weeks later was back in uniform for team. But, at a minimum, a woman could be 3 or 4 months pregnant and not even know, so unless the woman is playing a violent contact sport, a female athlete could spend that trimester playing.
Men don't take off for births. A basketball player might get a game off. I don't think a football player would have a prayer for getting excused from a game for the birth of a child. Of course, I assume fathers want to bond with their babies. But given the career they've chosen, they can't.
And the women in sports should be held to the same standard. Even athlete wives often take one for the team, regularly inducing labor and/or choosing to have scheduled C-sections to accommodate a father's schedule. A female basketball player like Lisa Leslie should make a reasonable effort to avoid disrupting her team. Leslie could have planned her pregnancy around the short WNBA season. There is plenty of technology available to help women do that and, if necessary, the players, union should facilitate access to fertility therapies.
Female athletes can stay conditioned during pregnancy. Absent medical excuse, pregnant women can exercise. Certainly not 100%, but if an athlete stayed at, say, 60%, she would have a quicker recovery time back to professional-level conditioning. And a female athlete owes that commitment that to her sport.
Women could also deal with pregnancy by adjusting their roles on the team. Using Leslie as an example again, she could choose play more in the open court than in the post. Sure, it's a disadvantage to the team, but it's better to have Leslie in any capacity than not at all.
Women, including female athletes, should have a right to choose the circumstances under which she wants to have a baby. But it's tantamount to a slap in the face to the women who get kicked out of the hospital barely 24 hours after having birth and use their breast pumps during 15-minute breaks from their full time jobs to pretend you need to sacrifice a whole year to have a baby. However, I hope certain female athletes aren't treating pregnancy like some kind of extended snow day to duck the commitment they made to sport. No, it's not an easy thing to expect. However, the male athletes make certain sacrifices when it comes to family and female athletes should expect to do the same. After all, fair is fair.