WNBA Star Candace Parker and Pregnant Athletes

The New York Times reports that Candace Parker, of the Los Angeles Sparks, is pregnant and due in the spring. The article touches on the fact that a high-profile athlete’s pregnancy could be a good conduit for talking about the challenges that working mothers face, whether they’re basketball players, schoolteachers, doctors, or in any other job. However, the overall tone of the article insinuates that Ms. Parker should not be pregnant (or at least should not be pregnant and proud), which is a disappointing comment on how our society views high-profile pregnant athletes.

The Los Angeles Sparks’ Candace Parker is carrying a child this year when she was being counted on to carry a league. If the W.N.B.A. is not roundly thrilled with her pregnancy, which became public earlier this month, Parker has decided she can live with that.

W.N.B.A. Commissioner Donna Orender said her initial reaction to Parker’s pregnancy was a quiet sigh of resignation. Then she thought of all the women in the more traditional workplace struggling with the issue of when or if to start a family, and she realized that Parker’s pregnancy provided a perfect modeling moment. … On Internet message boards, people have described Parker as “selfish” and argued that she should not have become pregnant while under contract with the Sparks.

Instead of respecting Ms. Parker’s choice to become pregnant, she is criticized for abandoning the WNBA (by “carrying a child this year when she was being counted on to carry a league”), called “selfish” for daring to become pregnant when she wishes, and lambasted for not making the reproductive choices the public thinks she should have made.

Candace Parker’s reproductive choices are hers and hers alone. Women can be pregnant or new mothers and still participate in athletic activity – the article cites Sheryl Swoopes returning to basketball six months after the birth of her son and Houston Comets player Tina Thompson, who had a child in May 2005 and returned to playing the game in July. Part of the problem is that the world of athletics is so dependent on the idea of a man as the ideal athlete that it’s hard for anyone to envision a pregnant woman participating in sports, according to University of Pittsburgh law professor Deborah Brake, in her article “The Invisible Pregnant Athlete and the Promise of Title IX,” (PDF) published in the Harvard Journal of Law and Gender last year. We should respect Candace Parker’s choices, not vilify her for making them.

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One Response to WNBA Star Candace Parker and Pregnant Athletes

  1. Jerry says:

    It should be noted that Swoopes was as roundly criticized for her pregnancy in 1997 as Parker was. Swoopes was the first player signed to the league and assigned to the Comets, and when she revealed her pregnancy, it was assumed that the Comets wouldn’t be contenders in the league, and all attention was shifted to Lisa Leslie (who would become a mother herself, and that prior to retiring from the league) and the Sparks, so it was something of a surprise when the Comets became the team of Cynthia Cooper and Tina Thompson in Sheryl’s absence, and Swoopes’s return from maternity leave came just in time for the playoffs. The level of expectation on Swoopes carrying the league at the time was every bit as high, but to be fair, the league was a bit of an unknown quantity at the time; WNBA expansion over the years meant that there was certainly more money on the line when Parker arrived on the scene.

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