These days, there are congressional events for all sorts of sports, beyond just the storied Congressional Baseball Game.
There’s a biennial football game, against members of the Capitol Hill Police. There’s the Congressional Hockey Challenge. There’s the tennis match, mixing politicians, journalists, and former pro athletes. And the basketball game, pitting lawmakers against lobbyists. Each touts its show of bipartisanship and charity component.
But one of the events is a bit of a different beast, both in its creation and its conceit.
The Congressional Women’s Softball Game was founded by a young breast cancer survivor for the expressed purpose of helping spread awareness of a disease that’s still misunderstood and not talked about nearly enough.
In its decade-long run to this point, it has raised over $1.3 million for the Young Survival Coalition, which helps spread awareness of breast cancer impacting younger women. And it’s a game run by and played by women.
“Most of our staff are in their 20s, or certainly our junior staffers, so raising awareness about the risk of breast cancer in young women is important,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., a survivor and one of the game’s co-founders, along with former Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo.
The 11th Annual Congressional Softball Game will take place on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Watkins Recreation Center, just on the eastern edge of Capitol Hill.
While women have played in the Congressional Baseball Game — Linda Sanchez, D-Calif. has become a crowd favorite and Mia Love, R-Utah, participated last year — the Congressional Softball Game is an event specifically for women.
Unlike the baseball game, which pits the two sides of the aisle against one another, politicians practice and play together against the Capitol Hill press corps. The hope is not just that the format will promote bipartisanship, but also improve the lines of communication between the government and the media that cover them.
“We definitely have a competitive relationship with the press both professionally and on the field,” said Wasserman Schultz. “But really, at the end of the day, we’re all out here as women. All of us, both teams, fighting for the same cause.”
Senator and 2020 presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who has been playing since the game’s inception, believes relationship building on both fronts is important, but that the ability to get to know those on the other side as humans is the biggest benefit.
“Both are really wonderful, but we get to know the other members very intimately, because we practice together all season long,” she said. “We play a game, but we talk to each other and get to know each other’s worries, life events, celebrate each other’s successes. We’re very much a team, and it’s wonderful to do that on a bipartisan, bicameral basis.”
For the Young Survival Coalition, the game is their biggest chance each year to help connect with people who might not realize they are there to help.
“It helps young adults across the country know they’re not alone,” said CEO Jennifer Merschdorf. “Our phone rings off the hook after this game.”
As the number of women in Congress has grown — from 94 in the game’s first year to 127 today — so has the game’s profile and reach. And for all the hopeful bipartisanship, the ultimate goal remains the same.
“If we save one young woman’s life because they paid attention to their breast health, they did a self-exam, they found out what they needed to be paying attention to as a result of the awareness we raised from this game, then it will all have been worth it,” said Wasserman Schultz.
For those looking to get involved, the organizers say the best way is just to show up.
“Come to the game, because that supports the charity we play for,” said Wasserman Schultz. “And they can also see that in all the cynicism and bitterness that there appears to be in the political process now, this is a bright and sweet spot that I think most people, after attending the game, come away with a really good feeling.”
Tickets to the 11th Annual Congressional Softball Game are available to the public for $10.
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