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The Verbal Slugfest
Posted at 12:01 a.m. on May 31, 2012
In sports, trash talking can be a potent weapon in puffing up the collective team ego while cutting that of the opposition.
For the Congressional Women’s Softball Game, it’s a means of motivation and a gentle way to rib the other side.
On June 20, women of the press and female Members of Congress face off for the game’s fourth annual installment. (This will be the third game between the press and the Members.) Last year, the Members topped the press, 5-4, on a walk-off hit in the bottom of the seventh inning by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.).
Though the intent of the game serves a much greater purpose — raising money for the Young Survival Coalition, an organization that aids young women confronting breast cancer — it integrates playful, frequent teasing between the two teams leading up to game day.
“Who doesn’t like to trash talk?” asked Jennifer Bendery, a White House and Congressional reporter for the Huffington Post, a former Roll Call staffer and a member of the Bad News Babes.
“I know a lot of these lawmakers from working with them, so I have pretty friendly relations with most of them,” Bendery said. “It makes it a lot easier to just publicly shame them about how badly we’re going to destroy them.”
In recent weeks, Members and the press have gone back and forth over Twitter. The press side has tweeted out a gritty team picture and a visual from batting practice, accompanied by a warning to be on the lookout. The Members, through Wasserman Schultz, retorted with an online eye-roll and a reminder of who won last year.
Along with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Wasserman Schultz is acknowledged by those on the press team for having a true knack for talking smack, something she says she picked up at college.
“Since I’m a University of Florida Fighting Gator, we’ve been known to trash talk among our [Southeastern Conference] compatriots. Let’s just say that I have quite a bit of trash talking experience,” Wasserman Schultz said.
Barbs between the two teams are not strictly relegated to the cyber-realm. An exchange about the fate of one team or a lingering beef from past games carries over into a professional setting. Wasserman Schultz has been known to go after her press adversaries in the Speaker’s Lobby or even just before airtime of an interview.
When not roaming the halls of Congress for her next scoop, Bendery can be found litigating a years-old play with Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.), during which Bendery was called out at first base, with Richardson holding court on the bag.
To remind Richardson of the raw deal she thinks she got, Bendery will label the Congresswoman a “cheater.” Richardson fires back by calling her a “sore loser.”
While the verbal jousting is all done in fun, there’s a glimmer of hope that it could pan out as an effective tactic for rattling the opposition, especially against the likes of Richardson and Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), whose bats pack the most punch in the Members’ line-up.
“What kind of psychological things work? Is it ignoring, is that better? Is it trying to get into someone’s head?” ABC News Political Director and Bad News Babes team member Amy Walter asked.
Walter, however, is skeptical that any string of words will be enough to quiet Richardson’s bat.
“She may thrive off of it,” she said.
The effectiveness of the tactic leaves plenty of room for debate. But both teams share the sentiment that the bantering, no matter how clever, just doesn’t hold the same currency as the team’s actual skill set.
“Hours leading up to the game we might throw out a few final tweets or something to try and scare them off, but then we huddle amongst ourselves and get ready to rumble on the field and show that we’re going to kick ass instead of just talking about it,” Bendery said.
Wasserman Schultz emphasized that team chemistry and on-the-field fundamentals will do far more in advancing the Members’ cause than any taunting tweet.
If anything, the argument can be made that the back and forth has the inverse effect, changing the dynamic of the relationship between the two factions from professional adversaries to recreational pals. For one day at least, a Member isn’t a Member and a reporter isn’t a reporter. Rather, all involved are simply competitors, unattached from the professional complexities embedded in their day jobs.
“Now they’re not a Member of your Congress, they’re your opponent. And we’re not the press that’s hounding them outside of the Speaker’s Lobby, we’re the person they want to try and strike out,” Walter said.