It feels like it is hard to go more than a couple of weeks without some controversy in pickleball. With a brand new conversation being brought up this week regarding Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) in the sport, news came out on Thursday via the Dink’s podcast with DJ Young that the PPA was banning use of the CRBN paddle for this Austin event, some might say CRBN-Gate 2.0.
Young said on the podcast the ban was the result of testing that determined approximately 60% of the paddles were failing deflection testing. The Kitchen has since clarified that the CRBN paddle is not being banned and that an executive with the PPA has made it clear that players are welcome to use the paddle, but they will be required to have further testing done on their paddle after the event if they play with it. The consequences of a failed further test was not released publicly but an email sent to pros Thursday afternoon outlined that a failed test could result in forfeiting ranking points and prize money.
The Kitchen captioned their post on Instagram with “Get your news from sources that actually know what’s going on. Here is the real CRBN situation.” Frankly, we have no reason to doubt what DJ Young said on the PicklePod as to what he was told. Thomas Wilson essentially confirmed what DJ said in his comment on a Memes of Pickleball post about the whole situation. We have to wonder if the PPA backtracked on their decision to try to ban the paddle quietly after seeing a lot of negative backlash. But that’s just speculation on our part. Practically, it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other.
That’s the issue with this whole thing, though. If there was ever a motto for the PPA, it would read something like “Transparency, what is it good for?” In these situations, we like to think about how more established pro sports leagues would deal with these types of issues. That’s not to say pro sports leagues don’t have their fair share of fumbles, especially when it comes to transparency, but the PPA is rarely transparent.
Putting these measures in place for only the CRBN paddle without releasing the process for testing, test results and the test results for other paddles tested is wholly inadequate. Everyone knows the CRBN had potential issues but everyone is also quite confident other paddles are an issue. There is also a strong belief out there that players have been or probably still are modifying their own paddles outside of approved standards. Allegedly, the Legacy paddle was tested and passed, but that information is not coming from any official PPA source.
Have we learned nothing from the original CRBN-Gate situation?
It’s so on brand for the PPA that they have not put out their own statement. The only thing issued publicly was their brief statement through the Kitchen based on what they were told by a “PPA executive”. When the PPA decided to do whatever they did with CRBN, whether banning or requiring further testing, they should have come out publicly with a statement explaining what they were doing and why. The PPA is probably mad at DJ Young for bringing this all to light on a podcast, but that’s on them for not getting out in front of this on their own.
Now, CRBN came out with their own statement late Thursday evening or very early Friday morning, depending on where you live, attempting to clarify the situation. The statement is fine enough. It states that USA Pickleball only tested one, well used CRBN 2X series paddle and it exceeded deflection specifications, which contradicts DJ Young saying he was told that multiple new and used paddles were tested and came back “too hot”. According to CRBN, USA Pickleball told them this issue was not isolated to their brand – this would check out from all the information we have gathered over the past few months and what is out there publicly. The statement goes on to say that due to this one, isolated case, the PPA independently chose to take action.
The CRBN statement quotes an email the PPA sent to all its pros on Thursday afternoon: “All CRBN Power models used for professional play must be onsite tested and sticker-marked before being used in a match. At the conclusion of the tournament, CRBN Power models will be sent to a USA Pickleball lab site for additional testing. If a paddle comes back over any of the legal specifications, all points and at-risk prize money amassed at the event where the paddle was used will be forfeited.”
We are all for getting this paddle stuff in check. By all accounts, there are problems with the CRBN once again and, as a result, the company has had to try to explain themselves through a well-written statement. Frankly, we do not have a lot of sympathy for CRBN. Their statement sounds well and good, but this is the second time their paddles have had issues in the last year that appear legitimate. However, the issue we have with this whole fiasco is that there are other paddle companies and players doing questionable things. We pointed this out last summer with the original CRBN-Gate. With this incident, this is the second time that CRBN has been put on blast while other companies are probably doing the same thing and going unpunished. Last year, there was evidence JOOLA had a paddle that was testing over the grit limit and nothing was done about it by USA Pickleball.
So, this all comes back to the PPA’s lack of transparency. There are straightforward questions that should have straightforward answers:
1. What testing was done on CRBN paddles?
2. What were the results of the testing done on CRBN paddles?
3. Has any testing been done on other, non-CRBN paddles?
4. If so, what were the results of testing done on other, non-CRBN paddles?
There are other, less straightforward questions beyond the above that need to be answered. Questions such as why did certain paddles get tested and not others. There are far more than whispers in pro circles about certain players using illegal or modified paddles, why are those not being tested as well? Surely, the PPA is aware of who are the potential culprits. Unless they did get tested and, if that is the case, the public should be aware so we don’t have all these unanswered questions.
Beyond being unfair to CRBN, by choosing not to test other modified or illegal paddles, the PPA is actually increasing the competitive advantage for those players by only testing for CRBN and not all other paddles. It shouldn’t be this hard.
The PPA has a Paddle Compliance and Testing Policy, but it does not address anything related to deflection. As usual, everything is being done behind closed doors and this that’s exactly the problem DJ Young had with the situation. We can likely answer why the PPA has taken this approach so hastily. Much like the original CRBN-Gate, it is almost certainly a business decision, with the word business being used broadly. Still, the timing of this CRBN situation is particularly odd given that the PPA, MLP and USA Pickleball announced a partnership to clamp down on paddle testing to create better standards starting with data collection at the Daytona MLP event at the end of the month. Why is the PPA choosing to crack down now when there seemed to be a clear development process that was outlined just last week?
It is well known that the PPA caters to its very top pros, namely Ben Johns and Anna Leigh Waters. The above screenshot was taken from Collin Johns’ sharing a Memes of Pickleball post on his Instagram story with the caption “I’m sure we will be hearing all about a “bad batch” again just like last year…#credibility.” We could have surmised this without an Instagram story, but Collin makes our jobs really easy for figuring out the who and why the PPA took such swift action against CRBN. This is just more NML educated speculation, not any insider information, for those concerned.
Although the PPA, USA Pickleball and MLP carefully set out a plan for action to address the paddle frenzy in pro pickleball, the PPA decided that waiting any longer was too long. In their haste, they have repeated the errors of the original CRBN-Gate as we see more favoritism in the business of pickleball and CRBN bearing the sole brunt of the consequences. It’s not that we don’t think CRBN should have consequences, if they are doing illegal things or manufacturing their paddles in a way that allows their players to make their own modifications that lead to illegal things. It’s that we think this selective punishment of one specific company is as much of a double standard as you’ll see anywhere.
So many questions. So few answers. What the hell is new?
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