Pregnancy and Women’s Athletics- Becky Lynch, Skylar Diggins-Smith and a Society that isn’t Quite Ready
As a WNBA Basketball fan and a WWE fan pregnancy has been a significant talking point in both realms and has exposed a lot of problematic narratives about sports, injury culture, and who has agency over their own bodies and decisions.
Imagine you are the top performer in wrestling, making a million dollars a year asthe face of a company but you voluntarily give all that up to have a child. Isn’t that unspeakable? What a crazy decision to give up your spot in the hierarchy to have a baby, while you’re still young! That’s been the narrative around WWE Superstar Becky Lynch’s announcement that she is stepping away to have a child.
Jim Cornette said,“You can’t always be on top of the wrestling business in a $1 million a year spot or more, but you can [have a baby] — what is she? Can she be 30?”( Essentially Sports). Jim’s voice isn’t a solitary one but a reflection of some of the most vocal wrestling fans.
WNBA stars Candace Parker and Skylar Diggins-Smith both missed entire seasons creating life. The WNBA actually added a milestone maternity policy to support their athletes in these moments. Even with the current policy changes, when Candace and Skylar walked away to have children the narratives were similar, “Why now?” “Why leave in your prime?” and the most damning question of, “Why are you hurting the league and your team to selfishly make this decision?”
Let me put my biases front and center, I am a man. I can’t have a child. I have a wife who prematurely had to end her collegiate basketball career due to pregnancy. That’s my lens. The idea that a young woman should wait to have a child is problematic. Pregnancy is very difficult on the body and bodies in high level athletics deteriorate even faster. Becky Lynch may feel that now is the best time for her to have a baby and who are we to argue with that. We don’t know their bodies, medical histories or ability to have children. Pregnancy as a voluntary injury is also problematic as well. I am sure if Candace Parker could have had the pregnancy be quicker than 9 months she would have. The women also may not be able to take birth control or a myriad of other factors to consider. Pregnancy gets riskier the older a women gets, so on some level it’s irresponsible to force these athletes to wait until a sports retirement age to have children. Having a baby at 35 is very different than 25.
Pregnancy is a unique issue to women’s athletics. In trying to find a male equivalent it’s hard to find anything. A voluntary surgery that the team doesn’t sign off on? If a man gets injured doing something outside of the game, like a motorcycle accident may be comparable? It’s difficult. It feels weird calling pregnancy an injury or comparing it to one. It also feels problematic calling it voluntary. What if an athlete has fertility issues and unexpectedly gets pregnant and knows this is a rare opportunity for them to have a child? That shouldn’t be held against them. Should athletes have to have the teams permissions to have a baby? This isn’t just a sports issue, women are forced to choose between upward mobility in their careers or taking a break to have a family. As a man, I don’t have to make those choices or deal with the repercussions of those decisions.
For the record, WWE has publicly been incredibly supportive of Becky Lynch during her pregnancy. The test will be if she retains her status and position in the company when she comes back or if the pregnancy will be an unspoken slight against the company that leads to a glass ceiling limiting her success. Skyler Diggins-Smith had a terrible pregnancy experience with the WNBA. She played pregnant and did not have the support of her team. She was traded from the Dallas Wings to the Phoenix Mercury and the slights she felt from the organization led to the split. Some could argue that the Wings are within their right to be angry that their star superstar “chose” to take a season off and have a baby, but is that ethical for the team to do? Her experience and her bravery in sharing that experience led to a milestone maternity leave update in the WNBA’s newest collective bargaining agreement,“The league now officially requires all of its teams to offer fully-paid maternity leave to its players. Parents playing in the WNBA are also eligible to receive a childcare stipend and housing assistance. Nursing mothers will be provided with necessary accommodations, while more veteran players will have access to reimbursement for family-planning costs involving adoption, fertility treatment, egg freezing, and more.” (Source)
In my mind, these leagues need to be prepared to support these women in their giving birth. Pregnancy should not be held against the athletes. Especially in WWE where they can make it part of the story line, but even in the WNBA there are ways to keep to the fans and community involved if the athlete is comfortable with that. Frankly, if your organization crumbles with the loss of an athlete for a season for any reason than the organization has larger issues and needs to not place that blame on the athletes. These pregnancies also show how problematic team culture and work culture can be. Having to put the job above your health and ability to create a family is really problematic. Companies being comfortable putting that kind of pressure on athletes and employees to wait to have a baby is shameful.
What do you think? Did these women make selfish decisions in having children during the prime of their careers? Do the leagues owe them anything? Thanks for reading.