In the long, dark hours of June 14, one news conference brought a light that had nothing to do with camera flashes and everything to do with the aura of, not just civility, but real love and respect.
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, and Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pennsylvania, had changed out of their baseball practice uniforms for the tailored uniforms of Capitol Hill to stand together before a shocked and grieving nation and talk about a ball game.
There was a lot of information and emotion about the vitriolic partisanship slowly, but surely, taking over not only the Senate and the House, but also the country. But the theme that kept emerging was hope, embodied in men of differing parties and ideologies with tears in their voices and determination in their hearts.
The game went on.
In my mind’s eye, I am back in Cleveland Municipal Stadium the Sunday following the death of President John F. Kennedy and his killer in Dallas.
We were a much more innocent country in those pre-internet days, but we had to learn quickly over a long weekend that the “land of the free and the home of the brave” came with its own share of craziness that could kill.
For me, the middle daughter of the coach of the Cleveland Browns who would play the Dallas Cowboys, it was all symbolized by one sentence in The Cleveland Plain Dealer: “The Browns coaches would be wearing bullet-proof vests when the team takes the field ...” The phone call that came to the Browns offices had threatened, “If the team takes the field on Sunday, the coaches will be shot.”
Fifty-plus years after that day, players from both teams have vivid memories of the armed guards, the unusual quiet in a stadium in its barest possible form, the instructions to keep their helmets on at all times and that the announcers were told not to utter the word “Dallas.”
The game went on. The grieving touch-football-loving family simply said, “Jack would have not wanted it canceled.” If we give in, they win.
During the Washington press conference, Doyle, with eyes fixed fondly and directly on Barton said, “I’ll love you before the game, and I’ll love you after the game, and during the game we will be fierce competitors.”
Surely this is the heart of democracy, as well as of sport.
I love those moments at the close of a hard-fought game of any sport, at any level, after the final whistle blows. Suddenly, instead of a field of orange on one side and blue on the other, the colors are all mixed up as players hug friends while standing in deep conversation in the midst of a swirling crowd, helmets under their arms and the last fierce tackles or strike outs set aside.
As the managers of the congressional baseball teams talked, I listened in the context of preparations for the upcoming 15th Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony and presentation of the annual Blanton Collier Awards for Integrity On and Off the Field. There will be gridiron heroes of all ages and eras on the stage of the Lexington Opera House, and heroes-in-the-making in the audience, and a number of heroes whose dreams were cut short by the heartbreak of injury yet carried the lessons of the field into other successes in life.
And I was also thinking about what I wrote my grandson when he proudly wore the green and white of the T-Ball Sand Gnats, after a game with the Lug Nuts, dressed in red and white: At the end of the day, the most important thing is the team and the game it loves. All of the tired, dirty players sit down together with the coaches, talk a little about the game, grab hands to remember what being a team is all about, and then have snacks and juice. Together.
It’s not too late for the theology of T-ball, for moving from a field of dreams to a field of hope.
Kay Collier McLaughlin of Nicholas County is a writer, collage artist and leadership-development consultant.