Passing Judgment – Dad first, athlete second.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim placed outfielder Torii Hunter on the restricted list so that he can attend to a personal matter back at his home in Texas.  It was reported that Hunter’s 17-year old son, Darius McClinton-Hunter, was one of several people arrested after a month-long investigation of sexual assault of a child.  It is far too early to speculate about the charges against Hunter’s son, but this situation puts into perspective the priorities in life.

We as fans all too often dehumanize professional athletes because of the money they make and the passion we have for the teams we root for.  We also view athletes in terms of what they provide for us on our fantasy teams.  But the reality is that professional athletes are people too with families and issues that all of us have. 

Many times athletes will miss a game or two to go home and be with their wives for the birth of a child.  No one in their right mind would criticize a person’s decision to do that.  But we as fans have an expectation that the player would return within a day or two, and many times they do.  Think about that for a second.  Those of you reading this who are parents – consider this: outside of some emergent reason, can you imagine being with your wife as she gives birth and then immediately leaving to go back to work?  Many companies have now instituted parental bonding days for both mothers and fathers to allow parents the necessary time to enjoy the birth of a child and acclamate themselves to their new life.  In sports, players are not afforded such luxuries.

Granted, professional athletes are gifted individuals who have the select privilege of getting paid millions of dollars to play sports for a living.  We are all envious of that.  But along with that comes expectations and obligations that trump being a parent in the way most of us would want. 

In this particular situation, Torii Hunter must attend to his son who is now in a heap of legal trouble which could potentially jeopardize his life forever.  Hunter’s son is currently being recruited to play football by several prominent colleges, and this legal situation could hamper that potential.  Hunter must change his hat from a red A with a halo to that of a dad who must protect his son and help guide him through these murky waters.  Guilty or innocent is not relevant to this argument right now.  But if Hunter’s son is guilty, then Torii must find a way to help his son and teach him about right, wrong, and bettering himself as a man.

Hunter is regarded as one of the most likeable and popular players in all of baseball.  His teammates have always loved him, and he has endeared himself to the fans and the media.  That is the perception we have of him as a public figure, and the sentiments about him seem justified.  But we do not personally know Torii Hunter the man, the father.  But we must respect the challenges he now faces as his son is in dire need of his help. 

Hunter is in the final year of a five-year contract he signed with the Angels after spending his entire career with the Minnesota Twins.  His next contract could likely be his last as a professional ballplayer, and this has to weigh heavily on him especially as his skills have declined with age.  Now on top of that, he faces a crisis far more important than hitting with a runner on third with less than two outs in the ninth inning.  We as fans should at least be empathetic about what he faces in his personal life and remember that baseball is just a game.  As much as his teammates rely on him to be there, Darius needs him much more right now.

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