In a discussion about the paddle testing controversy with her co-host, Dylan Frazier, on the latest episode of her podcast, The Drop, Anna Bright casually dropped that Tyson McGuffin’s paddle that was challenged at the Red Rock event failed off-site testing (28:24 mark). It was made as an off-hand comment by Bright and said in such a relaxed way that, if you have not been following the paddle testing topic closely, you would think it was a meaningless comment. That may be the reason why there has been little to no traction on social media about the comment.
The comment itself is far from a throwaway, though. Sarah Ansboury and her partner, Jillian Braverman, were defaulted from the main draw on Saturday after Ansboury’s challenged paddle was determined to be illegal on-site. This meant that Ansboury and Braverman forfeited the prize money and ranking points they had earned. It seems like ages ago that the PPA instituted the policy that anyone playing with the new CRBN power series would have their paddle sent for off-site testing and, if the paddle tested illegal, the player would lose all ranking points and prize money they earned in the tournament.
Despite not publishing an updated written paddle testing policy for deflection/delamination/debonding, whatever they are calling it, the PPA made it clear to their players that a paddle determined to be illegal following a challenge results in a default, including loss of prize money and ranking points earned with the illegal paddle. They enforced this new policy on Sarah Ansboury and had no issue blasting the Ansboury default news across all of their media platforms. An example was made of Ansboury that if you risk it for the biscuit with your paddle, there may be serious consequences.
A cloud that can hang over the PPA is that there is an impression the tour gives preferential treatment to its star players. To a certain degree, this is understandable. In a burgeoning league that has been in the thick of tour wars, you want to keep your most important players happy. When there are other options out there, the PPA understands that the league needs the players more than the players need the league. In the player empowerment era of professional sports, pickleball is not an exception.
However, there must be a limit to preferential treatment. The limit cannot call into question the integrity of results on the court, or the integrity of the way issues like paddle testing are handled. It is unsettling following the paddle controversy at Red Rock how confident we were that the PPA would not publicly release the results of the challenged paddles for Salome Devidze, Tyson McGuffin or Christa Gecheva. It is an ongoing theme for the PPA that they are content to deal with matters behind closed doors that can, and should, be made public.
Even though Salome Devidze posted her own statement about her paddle that was challenged in Red Rock, there has been no statement made by the PPA about the results for any of the challenged paddles in Red Rock – Salome Devidze’s, Tyson McGuffin’s or Christa Gecheva’s. We asked a representative of the PPA whether the PPA is planning to issue a statement about the subject and we were told there is no “formal timeline” for when a statement may be released.
Obviously, Salome Devidze wanted the public to know her paddle did not fail off-site testing after Lea Jansen’s very public allegations and, people like us, not giving her the benefit of the doubt – Lea Jansen issued her own public statement too. At the same time, Devidze’s statement must have put the PPA in an awkward position. On Monday, we questioned in our Newport takeaways whether Tyson’s paddle had failed off-site testing because, if Tyson’s paddle had passed, we have to assume he would also want the public to know his paddle did not fail given Travis Rettenmaier’s very public concerns about the paddle he challenged.
One of Rettenmaier’s biggest issues with the off-site testing was that an after the fact penalty was no help to him in the moment. Tyson won the first game 14-12 and played a number of points with what now appears to be an illegal paddle before agreeing to retire the paddle during the quarter-final match against Travis. He proceeded to lose game 2 but still won game 3 over Travis with presumably a legal paddle.
It probably takes someone with as much “I don’t give a f—” in their personality as Rettenmaier to call out a star like McGuffin publicly. But what did Travis get out of it? Absolutely nothing, except maybe having to deal with some uncomfortable calls with the Selkirk head brass. Rettenmaier still lost his quarter-final match to McGuffin. He does not get any additional prize money. Except for Tyson’s half-hearted admission on his podcast that he eventually realized the paddle was hot, Travis has not even gotten the absolute confirmation that he was right.
The PPA wants to protect its stars. Although the right thing to do would be to release the testing results for all paddles that were challenged in Red Rock, it would mean the PPA would have to either void Tyson’s singles victory or explain in some round-about way why Tyson gets to avoid a default. By not releasing the results of Salome Devidze, Christa Gecheva or Tyson McGuffin’s challenged paddles, the PPA has created bigger questions that go beyond the issue of whether Tyson should be defaulted.
Let’s get this out there before we go any further. The PPA should be commended for instituting on-site paddle testing on the fly in a span of less than two weeks. Whether or not it was a response to public pressure building, that could not have been easy for the PPA to do, and they found a way to do it. It is good that there is on-site testing and penalties that can be enforced. It’s definitely better than the APP arbitrarily confiscating a paddle for sounding fishy.
However, the report of a failed test for Tyson’s paddle places a bigger spotlight on the troubling lack of transparency in the PPA’s paddle testing process. If the PPA is unwilling to publicly acknowledge that the challenged paddle of one of its biggest stars failed off-site testing, how can the players or fans trust that the new process is being enforced equally to all players? With little insight as to what exactly goes into the new on-site paddle testing, it is crucial that the everyone can trust the PPA to enforce the rules equally. Without greater transparency into the process, how can anyone be confident that, if a future challenge for a star player fails site testing, the PPA will enforce the rules it has implemented?
Tyson’s paddle reportedly failing on-site testing strengthens the theorists out there who have asked whether the PPA would have defaulted a player more well-known than Sarah Ansboury.
Interestingly, on the latest episode of the Tyson McGuffin Podcast released on Tuesday (that we assume was recorded prior to the release of The Drop), Tyson had no issue calling out Lea Jansen for her incorrect accusation about Devidze’s paddle legality in Red Rock, but he was silent in when it came to addressing the results of his challenged paddle. Maybe he felt that he had already addressed the challenged paddle in his previous podcast, but to completely ignore Travis’ now confirmed accusation while calling out someone for their incorrect accusation is beyond hypocritical.
Update (10:08 am EST, April 29th): Shortly after posting this article, a couple of people reached out to us that Tyson responded to a YouTube commenter asking about the failed paddle and Tyson says he was not penalized because he put the paddle down and used another one. See the screenshot:
The other aspect of the paddle testing policy that remains flawed is the self-policing the system requires. For there to be any penalties for using an illegal paddle, it is still incumbent on a player to challenge an opponent’s paddle after the match. At this point, it is actually insane that the PPA is requiring players to test their paddles before the quarterfinals, which will not result in any penalty if a paddle fails, but they are not mandating that paddles be tested after any matches. Why not just have mandatory testing after the quarterfinals for the winning teams and continue to allow players to test their paddles on their own accord outside of that?
Players don’t like challenging a player’s paddle, much less a star player’s paddle, primarily because of the stigma that accompanies a paddle challenge, namely being called a sore loser. This stigma can prevent the needed enforcement of the paddle testing policy that is there to ensure a level playing field, particularly when paddles can swing from legal to illegal over the course of a single match.
Anna Leigh Waters got flack for challenging Parris Todd’s paddle in San Clemente last year so it is understandable that players in a non-transparent system would be afraid to challenge the paddle of someone like Anna Leigh, whose personal paddle sounds quite different on the live stream than the Paddletek you’ll hear at your local park. Beyond the stigma, the perception of players is that the system is not fair and that’s a problem. They could be asking themselves, hypothetically, what would happen if Anna Leigh Waters was on the receiving end of their challenge and her paddle failed? Would she receive the same treatment as Sarah Ansboury?
We can only guess what the PPA’s reasoning is for only requiring testing before matches, but it is not farfetched to speculate that the PPA chooses to require testing in this manner because it minimizes risk that players will be subject to failed paddle testing penalties.
There is an easy solution to all of this that we continue to clamor for, and that is releasing the results of all paddle testing, both mandatory testing and challenges. It was a step in the right direction to get some clarity from the PPA on the Ansboury situation but the PPA only released their statement because they were getting skewered by the public following Ansboury’s omission in her statement that she was advised not to use her paddle in the quarterfinals.
Collin Johns shared the PPA’s Instagram post on the Ansboury situation with some additional commentary of his own (see above), writing that:
“Paddle testing is moving in the right direction and although forfeits are never wished for, the rules must be transparent and strictly enforced for all players and manufacturers. Until rules have a penalty system that is enforced, no change in behavior will occur.”
We have no idea if Collin Johns is indirectly calling anyone out, but we couldn’t have said it better ourselves. To elaborate on Collin’s sentiment, let’s get a publicly available written policy, ensure that the policy is strictly enforced across the board and share the results of testing for everyone to see. This call for action does not mean we think the PPA should share paddle testing results forever, but it should be done for a period of time until this paddle stuff is under control. With PPA Commissioner, Connor Pardoe, announcing that gambling is coming to the PPA sometime next month, there needs to be clear rules and rulings on paddles. There 100% needs to be as even a playing field as possible, and you can’t have the perception that paddle testing won’t be enforced against certain players if gambling is going to be implemented.
MLP has been the group pushing forward the paddle testing agenda but the PPA’s hand has been forced due to a confluence of events and increasing public pressure. Unfortunately, it feels as if the PPA will continue operating in this behind closed doors manner unless its hand is forced in some other way. However, until the PPA brings more transparency to its process, there will be questions as to how serious the organization is about strictly enforcing the rules and penalties for all its players.
But let’s not have those questions. Stop with the poker games and put all the cards on the table. It really isn’t that hard.
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