Today's blog was written by Robert Fischer. Robert is a senior at the University of Notre Dame majoring in Finance. He is also a student in the Social Foundations of Coaching course taught by Play Like a Champion founding director Professor Clark Power and program director Kristin Sheehan. In addition to his studies, Robert is a member of the Notre Dame cheerleading team.
One of the most interesting and divisive topics heading into this baseball season was the retirement of Adam LaRoche after he was asked to limit his son's time in the locker room. This issue caused a great divide and was a source of debate among sports media and athletes. The largest issue was the role of family in sports, and where the line between family and business has to be drawn in professional sports. While some believe that the family nature of sports, especially one like baseball, should not be impeded, others think that at the professional level that sports are more of a job and that players should do whatever is best for the business. The right answer is probably somewhere in the middle, with times for family to be around and other times when the players should be focused on the goals at hand. Many of the arguments about the LaRoche issue is not what the right balance is, but if LaRoche crossed this line and or if Kenny Williams, the White Sox Executive Vice President, went too far in asking LaRoche to stop bringing his son as much.
In many other sports, this debate would not happen because in most sports, the locker room is seen as too masculine or vulgar for children to be around, so athletes find other ways for their families to be involved, such as Steph Curry bringing his daughter to press conferences or football players who bring their kids on the field after a game. It seems that baseball locker rooms do not have this machismo culture which would prevent children from being in locker rooms. Another factor about baseball which would make family participation greater than other sports is the long season, almost twice as much as any other sport, with much more time spent on the road and away from family while traveling. This is why baseball is pretty family friendly for the most part, with clubs allowing players children to be around as batboys or water boys during practices. The problem arises when the presence of these kids hampers the goals of the club, which is what Kenny Williams thought might happen after the club tried to turnaround from a bad season last year. While no person should be able to tell a person what to do in their family life, baseball teams are still businesses, which means that they can determine what a person can do during their work time. As much as Adam LaRoche may have disagreed with what the team was asking him to do, he also realized that it was a decision which he would have to make because the team was compensating him nicely so that he can help the team win, and if they felt that having his son around was going against this goal, he would not be able to go against them. Another issue which people have brought up in regards to this issue is that his son was now old enough, 14, that he could understand that his dad had to work and that he could not be around him all the time, no longer being able to travel with the team and be a constant presence.
Other members of the team felt this same way, with some asking Kenny Williams to ask LaRoche to limit the time his son spent with the team. And this is the heart of the problem. Not that LaRoche wanted to spend time with his son, or that the organization wanted him to limit this time somewhat, but instead that there is a place for family in sports, but where that line is changes with the sport, situation, and even the player. In this case, the situation was that the team was trying to change the culture in their locker room and having LaRoche’s son there so much did not fit with the new culture, while LaRoche was under the personal opinion that his son’s presence should not concern anyone. The difference of these opinions is what caused the conflict, and what ultimately turned this into a headline on every sports show in the country because each person has their own opinion on family in sports, and a topic as important as family is sure to bring out strong emotions. I think that it is important to remember that professional sports, no matter how much money is involved, are games which are played by children for fun. Taking the children and family aspect completely away from the game is to lose what makes the game what it is. In this way, while some may argue that other businesses do not allow families to be at the workplace as often as professional sports teams do because it is the best thing for those businesses, the family and child-like origin of the game makes it so that keeping a familial basis to the sport will help business by keeping its appeal to everyday people. Because of this, the family aspect of sports should be a concentration for any major sports team, not only because it seems like the right thing to do, but because they can actually benefit from it.