“Sports has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, it has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.” – Nelson Mandela
Every so often the healing power of Sports takes center stage. Rivalries are forgotten and hatchets are buried, if only for a moment. In these moments, we have a chance to reflect, a chance to realize that Sports can unite.
On Wednesday, June 14th, the Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s Senior Vice President of Government Relations & Public Affairs, Bill Sells began his day by attending Congressional baseball practice to arrange for a Congressman to escort MLB great Steve Garvey on game day. At 7:15 am gunshots rang out at the Republican team practice field. Sells saw the gunman fire his rifle and dropped to the ground behind the batting cage. He then scrambled to the first base dugout during a brief lull in the gunfire. Shots continued for 7 to 8 minutes as two Capitol police officers engaged the gunman.
The immediate action and bravery of the Capitol police officers no doubt saved lives. If the gunman had been able to get from the third base side to first base side where everyone was taking cover it could have been catastrophic.
As word trickled back to our offices we all were relieved at Bill’s safety, but remained concerned for those injured. Shootings are tragic everywhere but when it’s in your back yard and involves someone you know, it hits close to home.
The Congressional baseball game is an annual tradition with origins in 1909. The contest, referred to by the games official website as “the only annual partisan showdown beloved by all and enjoyed by thousands,” pits Congressional Representatives from the Republicans side against Congressional Representatives from the Democratic side. As with most matters in Congress, you must pick a side!
The Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) provides members’ products to the teams for the game then donates it to a charity afterward. As the official equipment sponsor, SFIA has been heavily involved with the Congressional baseball game since Sells joined SFIA in 2005.
This brings us to Thursday, June 15th, the night the Congressional baseball game seemed to mean even more. For starters, last year ticket sales were about 9,000 people. The 2017 game reported 24,959 general admission tickets sold and over $1.5 million* raised for charity.
It was a subdued atmosphere on that muggy night in DC, opposing players, with opposing view-points, opposing ideologies and opposite ideas of how the country should be run all met at second base. Then they took a knee, bowed a head and engaged in a silent prayer for the injured, including Majority Whip Steve Scalise who was in critical condition.
Coverage of Congress often focuses on disagreements between the parties, but the baseball game has always focused on the players love of the game. That love and the love for fellow baseball player and Congressional colleague Steve Scalise was very evident last Thursday. As the teams knelt in the center of the field, the stadium fell silent out of respect for those who were injured and impacted by this horrific act. Sports once again united people this time as part of the healing process.
Sportsmanship carries real weight. Democrats and Republicans have participated in multiple Congressional sports as opponents, but also as teammates. The Congressional Football, Softball, Basketball, Soccer and Hockey games all feature bipartisan teams. Members of Congress who practice and play together develop relationships across the aisle which help them work on bipartisan solutions together not just oppose someone else’s idea.
Sports breaks down walls, and as an association, the SFIA is proud of that fact. Congress may be considered oil and water or cats vs. dogs, but through the power of sports they’re able to step outside and for a moment unite.
Every even numbered year two things happen: Olympics and Elections. Olympics brings nations together and lately elections have been pulling us apart. Perhaps this tragedy at baseball practice will lead to more civility and start the healing of a nation…and Congressional sports participants will lead the way.
*The Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation and The Washington Literacy Center will receive a portion of proceeds, as well as the United States Capitol Police officers and those injured last week.