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Jenya Cassidy

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Is There Paternity Leave in Baseball?

Posted: 05/13/11 07:08 PM ET

I'm a baseball fan and a work/family advocate, so I loved the hoopla over the Texas Rangers starting pitcher Colby Lewis taking paternity leave to attend the birth of his daughter.

High-profile fans denounced him in blogs and on the radio for "caring more about being a father than a starting pitcher."

Work/family advocates praised him for putting family first.

For those of us working on expanding maternity and paternity leave rights in this country, events like these throw a welcome spotlight on how far we've come and how far we still have to go.

Colby Lewis is not the first major league player to miss a game to attend the birth of his child. But he is the first to take advantage of Major League Baseball's new 72-hour paternity leave policy. Now, 72-hour leave might not sound overly-generous. But it is more paid paternity leave than most U.S. companies provide.

Many new fathers would qualify for unpaid, job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). A California or New Jersey father might qualify to take paid leave. But we have no national law that guarantees fathers (or mothers) the right to take paid time off work to bond with a new child. This surprises many Americans when they hear it for the first time. In fact, we are one of the few countries in the world that doesn't have even a national policy to guarantee paid leave for new mothers.

When it comes to fathers taking leave we have an additional, cultural hurdle. Studies show that even among American men who qualify to take leave, only a small percentage take the whole time. Not being able to afford it is one reason. But there is still less expectation that a man will prioritize family needs over work needs. Major League starting pitchers, like Colby Lewis, do make a lot of money and play a key role on the team. But they aren't the only ones feeling pressure to take little or no time off for family needs.

Since California passed Paid Family Leave, the number of fathers taking leave to bond with a new baby has steadily increased. We need a national policy shift. But before that happens, we will need a major culture shift with more fathers like Colby Lewis demanding the right to put family first. Together, we can make family leave as American as baseball.

This blog comes from MomsRising.org and CustomFitWorkplace.org. Each week it presents innovative ideas to strengthen 21st Century American families through public policies, business and workplace practices, and cultural change.