Commentary

Oh baby, what a decision

It should be a no-brainer for athletes to attend their children's births

Updated: November 10, 2012, 6:49 PM ET
By LZ Granderson | ESPN.com

When it comes to professional sports, many of us still don't get it.

The latest example of this: Charles Tillman and Birthgate.

Only an athlete gets applauded for wanting to be there for the birth of a child. Any other millionaire husband who showed up at the office while his wife was giving birth would get funny looks at best and called inhuman at worst. But for some reason, the script is totally flipped in the bizarro world of sports.

If you want to know why some of these guys think they don't have to live by the same rules as everyone else, it's because of the way society treats them when it comes to stuff like this.

That's not to suggest the presence of Tillman, or Elton Brand -- who missed a game this week to be with his wife during delivery -- isn't important. Rather, isn't that the minimum society should expect from a husband who is not deployed somewhere?

[+] EnlargeCharles Tillman
David Banks/Getty ImagesIn the midst of a great Bears season, Charles Tillman plans to be at the hospital for the birth of his child.

My son was born during my last semester in college. His due date was Thanksgiving, but he didn't show up until finals week. I brought my books to the hospital and didn't think anything of it. That is what a father is supposed to do.

That's why I liked the casual way Jason Witten told us about the birth of his daughter. He didn't have to miss a game, but in the middle of the season, he told a Dallas radio station, "My wife gave birth to our third child, a little girl, so there hasn't been a whole lot of football going on here at the Witten household."

See, Birthgate is only a story if Tillman chooses to be on the field while his wife is getting an epidural.

Family over football is not a hot topic. Football over family is.

"At the end of the day, [family is] all you have," Tillman said after Wednesday's practice. "This game is important to me, but after what we went through with my middle child [she had a heart transplant in 2008], to me football will always be second or third in my life. That was a great lesson learned to teach me that, when I'm done playing football, my family will still always be there for me."

That's not heroic; that's just common sense. I guess we're just so used to headlines and stories about athletes who behave badly that we treat men like Tillman like unicorns.

But if we want the men who play the games we love to be better role models, we have to remember playing professional sports is tough, but being a man is tougher. Just because we want our favorite team to win does not mean there's any lack of toughness when a player choses family first.

When a guy has legal trouble or is coming back from some sort of suspension, he is not "redeemed" because he plays well in his next game. Redemption does not come from a box score.

Too many of us in sports nation get that wrong, and as a result, we hold athletes to a different, and more often than not lesser, standard. I ask you, just how low is the proverbial bar that a rich man who is in town when his wife goes into labor is viewed as a good father simply for choosing to be in the delivery room? Because it's an athlete, somehow it's magical.

We have got to cut that out.

Earlier this fall, people were falling all over themselves applauding Ben Roethlisberger when he said he would miss a game to be there for the birth of his child. I was thinking, "Where the hell else is he supposed to be?"

I hear all of the gibberish about there being only 16 games, as if the birth of your child happens every weekend. Besides, we all know any number of athletes will miss important games for stupid reasons. Joel Zumaya reportedly missed three games of the 2006 American League Championship Series because of inflammation in his wrist caused by playing too much "Guitar Hero."

That's a terrible reason to miss an important game. Your child coming into the world? That's the best.

It's why British pop star Robbie Williams pulled out of the closing ceremonies of this year's Olympics. The date was too close to the baby's due date. As you know, the Olympics are held once every four years. The last time London was the host city was 1948. Yet Williams chose family (and a baby who didn't arrive until September).

That's not special. That's just what you're supposed to do. That is the least we should expect.

LZ Granderson | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine