While their male counterparts remain divided along party lines — the annual Congressional Baseball Game, which includes almost all men, pits Republicans against Democrats — the softball team is a bipartisan effort.
Which was the point. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Florida Democrat who created the game with Jo Ann Emerson, a former Republican member from Missouri, said the softball network reduces antagonism on the Hill.
“When you spend two months together at 7 a.m., looking a way you would show to no one else in a professional setting, you form some strong ties,” Wasserman Schultz said. “When I need a Republican to be the lead on legislation, the first place I go is the softball team.”
“Debbie and I disagreed on a lot of stuff, but there are things we can agree on,” said Emerson, who is now chief executive of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. “In Congress sometimes you get so involved in your own party. . . . There’s an understanding that when any member of the team gets up and debates from her position, a group of 18 people will listen.”
The game itself is famous for its trash-talking, but off the field the contest makes life more civil. It’s much harder to vilify someone, member/players say, when you’ve sat on a bench or shared a beer with them.
“No matter how hard we’re going at each other the rest of the day, we’re able to leave the strife and division off the field,” Wasserman Schultz said. “We’re able to act like we would when we’re home, where we have friends who are both Democrats and Republicans. We’re able to just be girlfriends.”
Wasserman Schultz cites improved relations with Kristi Noem, the Republican representative from South Dakota, who began playing softball this year. “Last year she was sending out nasty tweets about me when I was chairing the DNC.” Wasserman Schultz said the two didn’t yet know each other, and that Noem might have seen criticizing her as taking a shot on behalf of her party.
“Now that we’ve become friends on the softball field, I would bet my right arm she would never send out nasty tweets about me again,” Wasserman Schultz said.
For the journalists who take the field, the team bonding experience helps them think about coverage and support each other professionally, said the Cook Political Report’s Walter, a co-captain of the journalists’ team.
“This is what men have been able to do historically. They share the same bathroom, they were in bars and places women were forbidden,” Walter said. “Here’s one place where women are saying, ‘It’s all girls.’ That’s very rare.”
Brianna Keilar, a White House correspondent for CNN who is also co-captain of the media team, said teammates support each other in big and small ways — whether it’s retweeting a teammate’s story or helping if someone finds herself out of work.
“It’s not like we’re trying to have a female mafia, but we want to see other talented women succeed,” Keilar said. “This whole game and the time we spend together fuels that.”
Wasserman Schultz said she sees strength on the field translate into strong professional networks.
“This game has allowed bonds to form among natural rivals,” she said. “If we have each other’s backs, we will be more successful personally and professionally. The more of us there are, the more opportunities there are for each one of us.”
Ryckman is a freelance writer and the author of “Stiletto Network: Inside the Women’s Power Circles That are Changing the Face of Business.”