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Squires: ‘Where’s Daddy?’

Op-ed
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“Where’s Daddy?”

Sports Illustrated asked this question on the cover of a 1998 special report on professional athletes fathering children out of wedlock. It’s also what millions of American children ask on a daily basis.

A pair of football players – one a former MVP and the other a Super Bowl champion – are answering in completely different ways.

Cam Newton’s recent conversation with Instagram model Brittany Renner shines a window into modern family dynamics. At one point in the discussion, Renner asked Cam why he didn’t marry ex-girlfriend Shakia Proctor, the mother of four of his five biological children. The All-Pro quarterback stated the lure of available women was simply too strong for him to commit to being a faithful husband. Cam isn’t the first athlete to put off marriage to play the field, but like many of his peers, he acts as if children don’t also connect you to another person for life.

The irony is that, unlike Renner, Cam said he benefited from seeing his parents and the marriage they have sustained for his entire life. He stated that he would like to find that “perfect person” in the future who could accept his children. He also wished for the same type of companionship for the mothers of his kids.

It seems as if Cam was putting “conscious co-parenting” into practice way before CNN’s Van Jones coined the term.

Thankfully, a different Van shows that another route is possible. Van Jefferson is a 25-year-old wide receiver with the L.A. Rams and a Super Bowl champion. An Instagram video shared by the pro-life group Live Action captured the moment Jefferson received word his wife Samaria went into labor.

Jefferson found out while celebrating with his two younger children on the field after the game. He told them they had to leave for the hospital because “Mommy” was about to have their baby brother. His son – fittingly named “Champ” – was born on the same night he won the biggest game of his life.

The moment was also a stark contrast to what has become the norm for American families. The percentage of children born to unmarried parents has increased for every group since 1970, but the rate for black children (70%) is thirty percentage points higher than the national average.

Decades of research demonstrate a clear link between family structure and social and emotional outcomes for children. Given the emphasis professional athletes and sports leagues put on racial equality, it seems they should all be interested in addressing one of this country’s most important disparities. The NFL could build a campaign around Van Jefferson, Russell Wilson, and other players who put husbandhood before fatherhood. That might not sit well with the political interests who prefer to see the league pour money into putting “End Racism” on the backs of helmets and produce commercials where men in prison jumpsuits do interpretive dance moves and walk with a raised fist over the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

The window that professional sports provide into the broader culture isn’t restricted to men. WNBA star Candace Parker and her wife Anna Petrakova recently had a baby boy. Parker also has a 12-year-old daughter with her ex-husband, NBA power forward Shelden Williams.

In a previous generation, an announcement like this would have caused a magazine geared toward black women like Essence to ask the same question – “Where’s Daddy?” – as Sports Illustrated. In 2022, the publication is being hailed for featuring Niecy Nash and her wife Jessica Betts as the first same-sex couple on its cover. These developments show how much, and little, has changed in our culture over the past 25 years.

The notion that children do best when raised by their married biological parents is an affront to everyone from single mothers to LGBTQ activists to the radical feminists who founded Black Lives Matter and their political allies. That’s because these groups, like most Americans, think that conversations about family should focus on the desires of adults. We rarely consider what is best for children. Every child has a mother and father, and in an ideal world every child would grow up in a home where the adults are as committed to one another as they are their offspring. Everyone knows the world is not ideal, but there is a big difference between a widow raising her children with the help of her family and conscious co-parents who think the natural family is an outdated Western relic of white supremacy.

Van Jefferson shows the benefits of maintaining the link between marriage and children. Jefferson is as invested in his wife as he is in his children. His children will likely benefit from seeing that type of commitment on a daily basis. I don’t think there is any coincidence that the Jeffersons appear to be a family grounded in their faith. Van states that he prays with his mother before games, and his Instagram bio includes the phrase “God First” and the Bible verse James 4:6. A biblical understanding of sex, sexuality, gender identity, and family is a bulwark against the shifting tides of a culture that sees the nuclear family as one of many equally valid family structures.

Only time will tell what family formation path they choose for themselves, but it helps to have godly models you can use for inspiration. As a wide receiver, Jefferson knows that while one-handed catches make the highlight reels, two hands are always best. Building a family is no different. When our children or their mothers ask, “Where’s Daddy?” we should be there to tell them both, “I’m right here and I’m not leaving you.”
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