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The Ballpark Is No Place to Raise a Child

Kavitha A. Davidson is a former Bloomberg View columnist.
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Adam LaRoche's decision to retire from Major League Baseball -- leaving $13 million on the table with the Chicago White Sox -- has spurred discussions about everything from workplace practices to paternity leave to the nature of our interest in athletes' personal lives. But perhaps the most appropriate reaction was summed up by FanGraphs' Jeff Sullivan, who writes: "No One Is Wrong About Adam LaRoche."

LaRoche says he walked away from the game after Ken Williams, the team's executive vice president, asked him to stop bringing his son to the clubhouse so often. In the past, Drake LaRoche has accompanied his father to work nearly every day. By most accounts, he wasn't a distraction or nuisance. Some local news reports postulate that certain players might have complained to the front office, though nobody has specifically come forward. On the contrary, Sports Illustrated's Jay Jaffe reports that some of the White Sox threatened to mutiny in support of the LaRoches by boycotting an exhibition game. Star pitcher Chris Sale was especially vocal, reportedly telling Williams to keep his nose out of clubhouse affairs.

The situation clearly isn't as cut-and-dry as all that. On the one hand, it sounds like LaRoche could have been a problematic employee and colleague. It's not the most unreasonable request to ask a worker to "dial it back" on the amount of time family spends in the office. How many jobs let you bring your kid to work every day?

On the other hand, there's the rather unreasonable extent to which we expect our athletes to be role models just because they happen to be in the public eye. Not many jobs keep you on the road for more than three months at a time; the family issues facing professional athletes are particularly unique, and everyone has an opinion. Remember when commentators Mike Francesca and Boomer Esiason ripped former Met Daniel Murphy for missing Opening Day two years ago so he could attend the birth of his son? (The audacity!)

It all goes back to fans' inability to see playing sports as just another job, and our unwillingness to see players as regular human beings. They, too, must deal with issues of work-life balance and paternity leave. (Stars -- they're just like us!) At the same time, the demands of the job are anything but normal. You can see why players like Derek Jeter wait until after they retire to start a family -- though it's a sad commentary on our society if we expect all athletes to do that. As the public discussion over whether women can "have it all" continues, perhaps we should be having the same conversation about athletes.

There are a lot of conflicting elements here, but one clear victim: Drake LaRoche. It's not perhaps the best thing for a 14-year-old to be pulled out of his education for months at a time, and it's not encouraging that Adam LaRoche has said that he and his wife are "not big on school." And now the boy is having the very nature of his relationship with his father publicly scrutinized and debated. Adam LaRoche could very well have simply retired quietly, releasing a generic statement of wanting to spend more time with his family. Instead, sources allied with either LaRoche or the White Sox leaked the story and created a very public display of antagonism. Drake LaRoche is just a teenager in the crossfire. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Kavitha A. Davidson at kdavidson19@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Tobin Harshaw at tharshaw@bloomberg.net