Crazy hot takes are the currency of sports journalism. This trade is bad, that team should fire its coach, this player will be better than this Hall of Famer, et cetera and ad nauseam. The sheer number of opinions flying around means that many if not most of them are bad, particularly when you consider that provocation is a reliable way to attract eyeballs.
These bad takes are largely harmless, by nature restricted to a particular industry. But every so often a sports columnist’s bad opinions leak into the mainstream where they can cause some real damage. Case in point: this bad take is all about questioning a father’s truthfulness about being a father.
Gene Frenette is a Jacksonville-based columnist (professional take-writer) for the Florida Times-Union. He mostly covers the Jacksonville Jaguars, which means he’s spilled a lot of ink this season on Jalen Ramsey, the All-Pro cornerback who earlier this season requested a trade from the team.
Frenette has decried the disorder that’s come from the Ramsey saga. (This is ironic, given that the controversy has undoubtedly earned him a lot of clicks.) So when it was announced that, after an illness and sore back kept him out of practices Ramsey would be leaving the team to be with his girlfriend, who is expecting their second child, Frenette couldn’t resist sending this tweet:
How much more of a fiasco can this #Jaguars vs. Ramsey become? I'm all for anybody getting time off for the birth of their child, but is Jalen's girlfriend actually in labor? Or is this just a convenient excuse for Ramsey to be out of the team's crosshairs for a week or more?
— Eugene Frenette (@GeneFrenette) September 25, 2019
This sucks. A line has to be drawn between criticizing Ramsey’s decision-making as a player (even when those takes are, as in this case, akin to criticizing a newspaper columnist for wanting to write for a different outlet) and accusing a player’s girlfriend of faking labor criticizing a father for taking paternity leave.
Frenette was roundly criticized in the replies to his tweet, including by Tony Khan, the owner of the team that Ramsey is quite publicly trying to leave.
That is an appalling tweet, Gene. That is way out of line. You have no business questioning someone’s family.
— Tony Khan (@TonyKhan) September 25, 2019
To Khan and the Jaguars’ credit, they granted Ramsey’s request. Like most of the country’s employers, NFL teams don’t guarantee paternity leave, which is a whole other problem.
Frenette doubled down on a column-length version of his tweet with a bunch of other nonsense, starting with this lede.
“Just when we think the acrimonious situation between Jalen Ramsey and the Jaguars can’t get any stranger, now the All-Pro cornerback is on paternity leave at a very convenient time.”
You can almost hear Frenette winking as he wrote “very convenient.”
He goes on to call it the “most amazing series of coincidences in the history of any NFL player’s feud with his employer,” the condescension building to this crescendo.
“Both sides bear some blame for this becoming such a fiasco, Ramsey more so than the team. But the Jaguars did themselves no favors by coddling Ramsey as much as they have.”
The paternalism is practically dripping from this sentence in a story about a black athlete advocating for his interests. And even if Ramsey is engaged in some chicanery with regards to getting a trade, it’s irrelevant to this issue, which falls outside the purview of the sports page.
When paid family leave for the birth of a child is framed as a benefit that can be abused instead of simply something every parent deserves, it presents another impediment to every parent in the country having access to and actually taking leave for the birth of a child, Jalen Ramsey included.
Frenette’s Twitter bio says that he’s a “Sports columnist 2nd, husband and father of 4 kids first.” He’d do well to remember that other men deserve time to be fathers first too.