Do male athletes deserve paternity leave?

The NCAA's policy allows women a year of maternity leave, but excludes fathers altogether.

Published August 25, 2006 10:52PM (EDT)

A suit filed against the NCAA by college football player Eric Butler raises an interesting question: If female athletes are given maternity leave, why shouldn't male athletes get paternity leave? It's a simple-seeming question, except for the fact that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) gives female athletes maternity leave only because of the physical change their body goes through during pregnancy. It isn't in order to allow them time with their newborn. So what rights do male college athletes have to paternity leave?

None, according to the NCAA's current legal dictates. College athletes are given five years of eligibility, but the NCAA allows for "a one-year extension of the five-year period of eligibility for a female student for reasons of pregnancy," according to USA Today. Butler took a year off for the birth of his daughter, and then was denied eligibility for an additional year. NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson told USA Today that "the pregnancy exception is explicitly written for female students whose physical condition due to pregnancy prevents their participation in intercollegiate athletics."

This is a reasonable argument, aside from the glaringly unfortunate fact that the NCAA doesn't explicitly provide time for child care. As Jocelyn Samuels, senior vice president of the National Women's Law Center, said, "If athletic programs allow women to be redshirted for a period of child raising, then that is treatment that should also be extended to male team members who take leave from school for the same reason. As a matter of social policy, that is a direction that the NCAA may want to consider. As a matter of social policy, to ensure that people can fulfill both their academic and their parental responsibilities would be a good thing."

The Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees workers in many companies 12 weeks of paternity leave. Why aren't male college athletes entitled to the same? Maybe it's time for the NCAA to cozy up to some more equitable -- and, while they're at it, socially aware -- policies.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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