Never doubt the ability of sports to bring people together. If you need proof, look no further than this week’s Congressional Baseball Game for Charity. I was shot while practicing for last year’s game and nearly died, but I was blessed to be alive and well enough play in the game Thursday.
The game has been a Capitol Hill tradition since 1909, and each year it showcases the strong friendships members of Congress have on both sides of the aisle. It’s about sportsmanship, unity, patriotism and supporting great charitable causes.
But this year’s game had a special meaning for all of us, because of what happened on the practice field exactly a year before.
When an attacker began firing his 7.62 rifle at Republicans practicing for 2017’s Congressional Baseball Game, several of us were hit and sustained serious injuries. I was shot in the hip, arrived at the hospital with zero blood pressure, and nearly died.
Thanks to the bravery of our police, the marvels of modern medicine – and most importantly, the grace of God’s miracles – the only one killed on the field that morning was the attacker himself.
As the facts emerged, it became clear that the would-be assassin attacked us on that ball field because he hated our values. In the months since that time, as I’ve undergone follow-up surgeries and intense physical therapy, I’ve been asked how I feel about having been targeted for my conservative beliefs.
It’s been said that the attack was an extreme example of the political divisions in our nation right now, and maybe there’s some truth to that.
But in the wake of the shooting, I experienced overwhelming acts of kindness, warmth and love – prayers and support sent my way by Americans from all walks of life and vastly different political beliefs. And that – rather than a single act of evil – is what I have focused on, and it’s that great side of our country that has fueled my recovery.
Along with my faith and the love of my family, that outpouring of kindness gave me the strength to recover from my injuries – enough so, in fact, that I was able to take to the field in Nationals Park in Washington on Thursday night at my old position, starting at second base and fielded a hard ground ball hit by the Democrats’ very first batter.
When I made the throw to first base for the game’s first out, it wasn’t just my fellow Republicans who celebrated. Colleagues and thousands of fans on both sides saw the moment for what it was: an example of how sports helps us rise above our divisions and appreciate one another’s talent, determination and achievements.
I wish I could tell you the Republicans won, but my good friend and colleague, Rep. Cedric Richmond of my home state of Louisiana, helped lead the Democrats to victory in Thursday’s ball game.
Cedric is a liberal Democrat and I’m a conservative Republican, but he was the first person at the hospital the morning I was shot, and he was one of the sources of calm and comfort for my wife and family in the days when no one knew if I’d make it. He was there for me when it counted most, and it brought us even closer together.
Cedric and I first became friends when we served together in the Louisiana state Legislature. We represent neighboring districts in the New Orleans area.
We work together on the issues where we can agree, and we listen and respect each other’s differences on the many issues where we don’t agree. And we both love to challenge ourselves – and one another – on the baseball field, the basketball court, or wherever else we can get out there and compete.
You see, sports help us move beyond our different perspectives and appreciate one another’s friendship. It inspires us to be our best as individuals, as teammates, and as opponents. I’ve always felt that was the best approach to politics, too.
So, as I continue to work with President Trump to advance conservative values, grow our economy, and make America the strongest nation on the world stage, I take to heart the lessons we learn from sports.
These lessons include: fight hard for your beliefs, the same way you’d fight hard to win a game; never quit standing up for your values, just like you’d stand up for your teammates; and treat those who disagree with respect, just as you’d show sportsmanship to an opposing team.
The challenges of the last year remind me how blessed I am to be alive, to be a husband and father, and to serve the people of southeast Louisiana and our country as House majority whip.
And being out on the ball field with my friends and colleagues on both sides of the aisle reminded me of how blessed I am to be an American, and how important it is that we stand together and continue to put America first.