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Football Player Fields Role as a Dad Like a Champ

I don’t know who is in charge of the Father of the Year award, but I think Houston Oilers tackle David Williams has it pretty much sewn up.

And the trophy for Grinch ’93 will surely be won by his bosses.

A week ago Saturday, early in the evening, Debi Williams gave birth to her first child, a 9-pound, 11-ounce boy named Scot Cooper Williams. David Williams was present for his son’s birth.

I don’t have any details on Debi Williams’ labor and delivery, but I do know that every birth is overwhelming, joyous and exhausting. For both parents.

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Williams had received permission from the Oilers to miss meetings and practices the day his son was born, and was also allowed to miss a charter flight to Boston for the next day’s game with the Patriots.

There were more than 17 hours between birth and kickoff. Plenty of time, in the team’s mind, for Williams to bond with Scot, then catch up with his teammates in time for the game.

Except for one thing. Williams didn’t want to leave his wife and son to play ball. It was too soon. So he stayed in Houston.

And team officials announced Tuesday they intended to dock him one game’s paycheck. That comes out to $111,000, though some reports had it as high as $125,000.

“Whatever the fine, it’s money well spent,” said the proud papa. “I don’t regret what I’ve done.”

Bravo to you, David Williams. Being docked a week’s pay may not put much of a dent in your $2 million-a-year salary, but you acted on a principle your team doesn’t even seem to recognize--the moments after birth are just as precious to a father as a mother.

Sometimes--even in Texas--family comes before football.

Houston papers reported that public sentiment--as gauged by call-in radio sports shows--was running in Williams’ favor. Which is nice, since paternity leave is still a foreign concept to most Americans.

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“The stigma attached to taking paternity leave is that you are not committed to your job,” said Laurie S. Kane, a research associate at the Families and Work Institute in New York.

“What we have found from studies is that even when paternity leave is available . . . men usually don’t take it.” Usually, she said, men take sick leave or vacation time.

Although few companies have ever offered paternity leave, on Aug. 5 millions of American men became eligible for it. On that date, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act took effect.

It mandates companies with more than 50 employees to allow up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for medical and/or family emergencies.

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Whether men will use the leave for paternity remains to be seen. After all, if a mother is taking an unpaid leave to be home with a newborn, few fathers could afford to miss a week’s pay to do the same.

Unless, of course, they are professional football players.

It’s not as if the Williamses didn’t try to accommodate the Oilers.

According to Williams’ agent, Leigh Steinberg, quoted in the Houston Chronicle, Debi Williams’ labor was to have been induced last Monday, the day after the Oilers played the Patriots so her husband wouldn’t have to miss a game.

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But she went into labor spontaneously on Saturday morning.

“They tried to accelerate the process so David could go to New England,” said Steinberg, “but it didn’t work out.”

I think it worked out fine. The Oilers should give Debi Williams a $111,000 bonus for being such a good sport. Trying to arrange childbirth around a football schedule? That’s team loyalty.

This spirit was lost on some of Williams’ coaches.

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“He doesn’t make $125,000 a week to stay home and watch television,” fumed line coach Bob Young the day after the Oilers beat the Patriots.

“They ought to suspend him for a week, maybe two. Everybody wants to be with his wife. But that’s like if World War II was going on and you said, ‘I can’t go fly. My wife’s having a baby.’ You have to go to work--especially when you get paid like that.”

It is tempting to comment on Coach Young’s confusion over: a) the difference between a football game and war, and b) the difference between “Wheel of Fortune” and childbirth.

But let’s leave that aside. The issue he raises most urgently is the lack of understanding and compassion that continues to plague working fathers.

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It’s a shame more dads can’t afford to pull a David Williams.

So far, the guy’s tackling fatherhood like an all-star.


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