Eric Decker, Rex Ryan put family first

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Eric Decker is back at the New York Jets' facility after a two-day trip to Nashville, Tenn., to attend a country music awards show with his wife, singer Jessie James. And, apparently, not a moment too soon. To listen to the critics, the Jets' new wide receiver lost invaluable time to bond with his team despite being months away from a preseason game, and the fact that the OTAs are optional.

“A marriage is give and take, any relationship is give and take,” Decker said. “It’s funny how this became a story.”

It is funny, and it’s funny that choices like this keep drawing the same, old antiquated ideas of what it means to be an athlete. You know who didn’t have a problem with Decker’s decision to support his wife’s career in country music? His teammates.

“People got to realize it’s a game in the end,” defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson said. “Family comes first. The sooner they understand that the sooner they understand why guys make the decisions that they make.”

This isn’t the first time a New York-area athlete has taken heat for putting family first. Mets player Daniel Murphy missed time earlier this year for the birth of a child and heard the wails of armchair critics who lamented the length of time Murphy chose to spend with his newborn.

“You have 162 games in baseball, [missing one for] the birth of a kid might be excusable,” said Jets coach Rex Ryan, who earlier in his career let work obligations trump being with his wife, Michelle, for the birth of his son Seth. “That was a stupid mistake I made and one that I regret."

There’s a lot of talk in sports that being on a team is like being part of a family. Yet, some players get criticized for treating their actual family like family. Ryan has set a tone, and generally if players are in good standing with the team, they get respect in return. Decker said that for him, that meant supporting Jesse to the same extent that she’s supported him.

“When your wife gives birth and goes through nine months of tough days to give you a child, you respect the woman a lot more,” Decker said. “And it’s important to me and her career is important to me. “

Decker also made sure his bosses were good with his absence -- and Ryan expressed nothing but support.

“If there was an issue, obviously I talked to Coach Ryan and let him know this was something that’s important not just for me but for my wife, and if he had an issue with it, we would have discussed it and figured out a solution,” Decker said.

Funny how that becomes a story, but it did. Decker is now back in the playbook, back in the meeting room with his fellow receivers on an offense that is an upgrade from what the Jets had last year. No matter the critics, Ryan will make the same call in the future, and it’s part of what makes him such a well-liked coach.

“Those things come up,” Ryan said. “There’s things that come up in family -- anytime someone has something come up dealing with family they’ll always be excused. ... Not that he needed my blessing but he had it.”