Horford Situation Reveals Evolution in Paternity Leave Opinion
Paternity leave is a fairly controversial topic that often finds itself put in the mainstream spotlight through athletics. Athletes will often miss games throughout the course of a season, due to the birth of a child, and while the players and the teams are often understanding and accommodating, not everyone surrounding the team shares in that gracious attitude.
Recently, Boston Celtics center Al Horford missed a game against the Heat in Miami, due to the birth of his second child, with his wife, former Miss Universe Amelia Vega. The couple had a little girl, Alía Horford Vega, born November 27 in Atlanta, where Horford played for the Hawks for 8 seasons.
The Boston Celtics were very accommodating in anything Horford and his family needed during this process, with coach Brad Stevens going on record saying the following:
“I think our greatest responsibilities are as sons, husbands, and fathers. I think that’s your number one job. We’re thrilled for the Horfords, and we’re thrilled to have Al back at practice and be ready to go tomorrow (against Detroit), but obviously family is really, really important.”
Horford was grateful for the support and the opportunity to be there to support his family, but not everyone was as supportive as the Celtics players and staff members. Comcast Sports Net New England’s Mike Felger was none too pleased to see the Boston center miss the game, for what he referred to as a “generic” birth.
“He had the birth of his kid in Atlanta. The game was in Miami. I know when you make $30 million a year, it ain’t much to get a private jet. [Celtics co-owner] Wyc [Grousbeck] would probably pick it up to fly down at 3 o’clock in Atlanta. It’s about a 90-minute flight to Atlanta. Play the game and come right back. If there were complications, then OK, take that all off the table. If the mother or the child or something happened where there were complications, then I totally understand. But if this is a generic child birth? Play the game.”
Felger’s comments also have received backlash from Horford’s sister, Anna, who went to Twitter to voice her displeasure, in which Felger responded on his regular radio show on 98.5 The Sports Hub. Horford didn’t pay attention to the comments and focused on being there during the birth to support his wife and child.
Horford’s situation is just one example of an issue that male athletes face: paternity leave. As non-athletes, societal rules can often dictate what companies offer as an acceptable time off, but when one signs a contract for tens, or sometimes even hundreds, of millions of dollars, asking for time off for any reason can be tricky.
Horford was fortunate to have an organization around him that has created a corporate culture that values fatherhood like they do. Earlier this season, the Celtics gave similar paternity time off for Jonas Jerebko and Avery Bradley. Sadly, many fathers do not always have that level of support around them.
Opinions on paternity leave can vary, and the policies regarding it are ever-changing. Part of it stems from many companies treating maternal leave and paternal leave the same, in the amount of time off they offer. For example, American Express recently unveiled a new policy for all parents: 20 weeks of paid leave to any U.S. employee of either gender who has a child through any means, including adoption and surrogacy. In addition, birth mothers will get an additional six to eight weeks of paid medical leave.
Even U.S. military policy is changing to reflect the growing need for expansion in paternity leave. According to the compromise version of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, military fathers, or “secondary caregivers” would receive as many as 21 days of leave after a birth or adoption under this change. This is a drastic change, in comparison to the 10 days of paternity leave after a birth with no adoption leave benefits.
These policy changes benefit the future of fatherhood. In past generations, fathers would be forced to compromise spending time with their children at such a young age, in order to support them and the rest of the family financially. By being present at such a young and formative age, fathers are given the opportunity to make a difference when it counts.