Juggling Pregnancy & Career Without Dropping The Ball

L.A. Sparks forward Candace Parker has landed the latest cover of ESPN magazine. The 22-year-old is depicted in a way rarely seen among athletes: In a white gown, holding her pregnant belly.

Earlier this year, Parker was profiled in the New York Times, and her "reproductive life" was part of the discussion. Parker is a favorite on her team, a star in the league and "being counted on to nurture women's basketball." So her pregnancy doesn't only affect her: "W.N.B.A. Commissioner Donna Orender said her initial reaction to Parker's pregnancy was a quiet sigh of resignation," Karen Crouse of the Times wrote. Orender said later: "[The timing of her pregnancy was] a very public discussion that hasn't happened before. I do think that's a good thing for women who go through these issues often in silence or alone. Candace can be a very usable symbol of how you can have a family and a career." But! On message boards, Parker was called "selfish." She disagrees: "My whole career has been trying to please people in basketball. Now it's time to please myself. For me, family has always come first." She did have to give up a $1.5 million deal to play for a Russian club.

According to the Times, there are a dozen moms playing in the league. And then there's Brynn Cameron, who plays for the University of Southern California team — she's a single mom, with a two-year-old son by former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Matt Leinart. But even more visible is 36-year-old three-time WNBA MVP Lisa Leslie (Parker's teammate), who recently announced that she is retiring to spend more time with her family. Basketball, for her, was tough to balance with family life. "I love being a wife, I enjoy my husband and our time. I love being a mom. I'm really passionate about raising a child and being there for her. For me, I just see it's really hard to give 100 percent to everything." Leslie's daughter is 19 months old, and Leslie missed the 2007 season to give birth.

While many female athletes have children, pregnancy in basketball seems more high profile and more dramatic than say, tennis or golf (Annika Sorenstam retired from the L.P.G.A. Tour in December because, at 38, she wants to have kids.) Is it because of the idea that a knocked-up woman has somehow "let down" her team? Is it because of the chance of injury or sheer jostling a pregnant player endures? Candace Parker doesn't seem to let any of this faze her, telling the LA Times: "I'm proud of my child, excited about my child and I'm excited about the opportunity to have a child and be an athlete."

Candace Parker Could Be The Next Big Thing [LA Times]
Candace Parker Is Balancing Career And Family [NY Times]
U.S.C.'s Cameron Balances Basketball And Motherhood [NY Times]
Lisa Leslie To Retire From Sparks At Season's End [AP]