Fathers and Football

October 24, 1993

The Houston Oilers professional football team was within its rights to dock the pay of starting tackle David Williams for skipping a football game hours after the birth of his son. After all, most leaves for new parents are unpaid. And if the $111,111 price tag of this parental leave seems excessive, it does represent the salary per game for a $2 million starting tackle.

But what makes this story interesting is the contrast between the macho-types running the football club who suggested Mr. Williams was a wimp and the equally macho fans who flooded call-in shows with support for a player who dared to put a football game second to his family. The public reaction gave pause to club officials who had threatened to suspend Mr. Williams in addition to docking his pay.

The dust-up also helps break some stereotypes. David Williams may have wimped out in the eyes of some tunnel-visioned football freaks like his offensive line coach who said, "Shoot, I had a baby when I was playing. Ninety percent of the guys have babies when they're playing, but you never miss games." But Mr. Williams has become a hero to liberals and conservatives alike.

Anna Quindlen praised him in a column in the New York Times, and the conservative Family Research Council took out a full-page ad in the Houston Post to praise him as part of its media campaign celebrating fatherhood.

But David Williams probably never meant to be a hero. He was simply being true to himself.

"My family comes first," Mr. Williams said later. "That's the way I've always been, and that's the way I always will be, long after I'm finished being a football player."

Wise man. He'll be a father long after he's finished with football. And no doubt he'll remember the events of last weekend at least as vividly as his most glorious exploits on the football field.

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