Thursday, January 11, 2007

Playing the Pregnancy Card

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.


Phil said...

What kind of things might be written into contrats concerning pregnancy? There must be something, right?

Head Chick In Charge said...

I've never heard anybody discuss any contract clauses. They would probably just concern amount of leave. I assume a lot of people would consider it politically incorrect to dictate circumstances of pregnancy.

DP said...

You're serious about this, aren't you?

I am all for integration, although that is a double edged sword I am not in the mood to discuss at this particular moment.

the issue here is priorities. Family vs. Career. Gender integration, not so much.

If Lisa Leslie wants to spend one of her final years in the WNBA tossing her cookies and binging on pickles and ice cream, she should do just that.

Hell, if Kobe wants to take off six months to take care of his pregnant wife and the Lakers are ok with it, More power to him.

If the Lakers are NOT okay with it, and he decides to do it anyway and take the ok with that too.

I do not get into the habit of allowing my employer to dictate to me too much about my family. When I had my last child. I busted my ass to accumulate all the Paid Time Off I could. Then i politely infomed said boss i would be gone for X days to allow my wife to adjust being home with two children and not one. X wasnt very 10. The boss was ok with that, and if he wasn't, then I would have done what I had to do.

I am glad the woman who spent her pregnancy boxing out and gathering up floor burns had a successful pregnancy. It would have sucked quite a bit if it had not been. Pregnancy is a delicate and sacred affair and should not be entered into or conducted casually.

But I still love you, though.

Vegan Viking said...

The difference between an athlete playing hurt and an athlete playing pregnant is the child--playing hurt, your risking only yourself, while playing pregnant, you're risking your fetus/unborn child.

Your post implies that it is against WNBA rules for player to play pregnant. The danger of making it the choice of the player is that pressure could be put on the player to play pregnant even if she doesn't want to.

Obviously economics dictates pregnant womens' choices to work or not. However, for the most part as long as it's safe to the mother and fetus/unborn child, they can do what they want (my pregnant wife, a teacher, is basically working until the baby is born, but if she had a job running, jumping, bumping, pushing, and heavy lifting, she would certainly not be).

I don't think any league wants to deal with the PR nightmare of an athlete suffering a miscarriage because she was competing in the league, and then finding out later that perhaps the team put pressure on her to try play, etc.

Head Chick In Charge said...

For example, I think Danica Patrick's decision to wait to have kids is appropriate given that she competes in a gender integrated sport.

I just want the woman to have the full range of choice. And I don't think the default position should be "take a year off." It should be up to the woman and depend on the sport. And there should be medical and insurance support for any choice she makes.

Women are going to be under pressure no matter what. Girls on college athletic scholarships are often faced with hiding or terminating their pregnancy so they won't lose their scholarships, depending on the policies of the school. That's not fair either.

And don't think for a minute it would be the same for a male athlete who took off for family time. Vince Carter couldn't even spend a couple of hours graduating from college. Athlete wives induce labor so there won't be chance that a birth will conflict with a game.

I wonder if the women on Lisa Leslie's team and the WNBA execs are secretly pissed that she got pregnant, especially when teams are getting folded. It is costly for the whole franchise and the league for the WNBA's most visible player to MIA for a season. I'm sure some people in the league, while happy for her, wished she had employed some family planning in consideration of the team.

Phil said...

My concern is with the amount of time, said athlete, might spend with their child after birth. It isn't just about their physical ability to play. I'm glad Brian Urlacher spends the necessary amount time helping my team and honoring his commitment, but he picks his kid up at a toll plaza. This is either because, he doesn't have the time to go all the way to Baby Momma's house, or out of spite towards baby Momma, he is punishing her in this way. Neither of these strike me as considering the child first.

Head Chick In Charge said...

To quote Vegan Viking, "It is what it is."

And, Phil knows the joy of child-rearing. More men should be like you, stay home and support the family when circumstances dictate. Michelle Tafoya, who is in the tiny picture, did her job very pregnant and her husband cares for their small children when she has job responsibilities.

Phil said...

Thanks you. I can only hope when my sons embarrass me on the court in the future, they remember my sacrifice. Ungratefull little...

Bad Becks said...

Thank you for writing this. I must admit, I've thoought about putting this in my blog on many a drunken night, but the fact that the Cleveland Rockers are now defunct...well it helped me forget. That is my biggest complaint of the WNBA. Can you imagine if LeBron James got knocked up and had to miss a year and a half??? The whole country would burn him alive.