Could Congressional Sports Fix Washington? It’s a Start
Posted at 4:58 p.m. on June 30, 2014
In the sixth inning of the 53rd Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game, Republican Vance McAllister stepped up to the plate, snagging one of Democrat Cedric L. Richmond’s pitches and launching a grounder between second and third base.
Turns out, Richmond was giving McAllister exactly what he wanted. The two members of the Louisiana House delegation were on rival teams that night and are from warring parties, but one did the other the tiniest favor at Nationals Park on June 25.
The lawmakers quipped about the home-state camaraderie at the after-party, as McAllister’s kids eyed the snack bar and Richmond’s colleagues noted that even though the Democrats prevailed, his pitching suffered this year because he has a new baby at home. Even the coaches figured out the New Orleans-area congressman had helped his politically beleaguered pal from northern Louisiana belt a single, not that it really mattered.
They called each other “good friends.” And it actually sounded like they meant it.
When the game was called due to an impending lightning storm at the end of the sixth, I took the field to deliver the coveted Roll Call trophy to the Democratic victors.
As I stepped onto the grass, freshman Democrat Patrick Murphy of Florida asked me for a favor of his own — could I please snap a shot of him with Pennsylvania Republican Lou Barletta and text it to him later? The two grinned, and you could tell they had bonded on the field this year, setting party labels aside.
I asked Murphy about it a few days later, and he said the “us versus them” mentality should stay on the field because when it comes to legislating, America should win, not a party.
“What’s so great about the game is you get to meet other members on both sides of the aisle that you might not normally meet and get to know each other on a personal level,” he told me. “That is so important to building trust so we can better work together in Congress.”
Barletta and Murphy after the game. (Christina Bellantoni/CQ Roll Call)
I heard similar comments from other players that evening, and I can’t help but suspect the good feelings had something to do with McAllister, in his first year on the team, deciding Monday that he won’t retire, after all.
I’ve already written about what playing in the Congressional Women’s Softball Game has meant for me personally, and those bonds have had a similar effect for the female members.
The same goes for the First Tee Congressional Challenge golf tournament (Republicans prevailed again to keep the coveted Roll Call Cup) and the Hoops for Hope All-Star Classic (that one is members versus lobbyists).
At this year’s event, golfers told me again and again they love nothing more than getting a chance to know other members while working toward a common charitable cause. A few years ago, some of them argued about tea party principles over dinner, but they moved on to the links the next morning and everything was just fine. They even co-sponsor legislation together when it’s appropriate.
I have heard lawmaker after lawmaker tell me they want to spend more time getting to know their fellow members as people, that they enjoy being forced into social interactions that forge bonds.
Take a look at the photo we ran on the cover of Roll Call on June 25. It’s from 1986, and Republican Silvio O. Conte and Democrat Bill Chappell Jr. are arm-in-arm. They were friends, and this town functioned.
And that’s sort of the point.
How about keeping up that spirit year round? Can the camaraderie forged on the field, and at practices day in and day out for months, live on?
I got my start in Washington covering the Virginia Legislature, where Republicans and Democrats could sing karaoke until midnight in a smoky Radisson hotel bar and still manage to engage in partisan warfare the following day during session.
Those state legislators also attend each day of session to debate and vote — like, all of them, in the chamber, at the same time!
Ask Republican House members Robert Hurt, Rob Wittman and Morgan Griffith about that. Not so long ago, they sat on that same floor in Richmond, actually working together to pass hundreds of bills each session. Believe me, there is still plenty of tension, but the relationships they build off the floor help to improve the work they do on the floor.
When you travel around the country and tell people you’re from Washington, it’s almost inevitable they will remark how broken this place is. Everyday citizens don’t understand why so little gets done, why it seems to them that bickering is the only commodity traded in the nation’s capital.
And when you ask any of the congressional observers or longtime lawmakers what’s changed, the answer is always the same — no one spends any time together anymore. Families don’t move to Washington. Members blow out of town like the last day of school each Thursday afternoon, racing to the airports only to return late Monday.
Sure, there is more to making politics work than making friends. But it’s a start.
Something has to give if we want our country to regain its confidence in its institutions. There is nothing wrong with sports helping this process along.
Over recess this week, I invite you to think of something else.
I am pretty sure America will benefit.