What the Hell Happened at the Pickleball US Open this Weekend?!?

This weekend an unprecedented event happened in Pickleball. Unfortunately, it did not happen on the court. What did happen was that CRBN paddles were banned mid tournament for use at all Pro and Non-pro events. If you keep close tabs on the Pickleball world, this should not have been a surprise. There are very few facts coming out about what actually happened, and this has led to wild speculation happening on social media and at local courts. What will follow is a brief summary of what we know transpired.

What we know

On March 15th of this year, “Today In Pickleball” reported on their social media feed, that the PPA was about to ban CRBN paddles at their tournaments. People began to throw major accusations stating that this was due to the recent defeat of Ben Johns at the hands of JW Johnson who plays with a CRBN paddle. The PPA then chimed in and stated that these rumors were false and that seemed to simmer the outrage.

Nothing else seemed to surface in the following weeks except from Ben and Collin Johns who separately discussed in different interviews that the CRBN paddles were rougher than USA Pickleball tolerances allowed. Collin Johns, on the podcast “Picklepod”, explained his sponsor Electrum had a similar issue with a bad “batch” of paddles. In any case, two of most prominent pros discussing the matter publicly were the Johns’ brothers, and neither play with CRBN paddles.

The matter seemed to be put to rest going into the US Open. Early on, with what has to be, in my opinion, the best Pickleball match in the history of Pickleball, Ben Johns playing with his new Joola paddle, narrowly defeated JW Johnson, playing with a CRBN paddle. There was a nervous energy in the crowd, that seemed to be pulling for the young JW. Ben was pushed to the limit as JW actually had several match points but was unable to pull out the victory.

Then…a few days passed…and it happened. Mid US Open Tournament, USA Pickleball banned all CRBN paddles from use at any sanctioned Pro or Amateur event, including the US Open. This left may players, Pro and Amateur alike, with no paddle of preference to play out their tournament. What lead up to this? What we know is that someone challenged the validity of CRBN paddles mid tournament. And let’s face it…if a regular Joe makes this challenge nothing happens…but someone or some organization of importance made the challenge. Field testing was done which then led to laboratory testing which then led to the decision to ban the paddles.

Then it gets crazy. A video surfaced on social media where Joola paddles also got field tested, and they also did not pass a field test. Chatter can be heard where the paddle repeatedly fails all the while someone requests for more tests. And that’s all we know about the video. People then started to post negative remarks on Joola’s social media accusing them of being behind the CRBN ban. Then, Joola made a formal statement, CRBN made a formal statement, USA Pickleball made a formal statement and none of them actually shed any light into what is actually happening. As it turns out, looks like the report that “Today In Pickleball” originally posted was most likely correct. The PPA probably saw the backlash and opted to pursue a more covert option by pressuring USA Pickleball into doing the actual banning of the CRBN paddle. Joola paddles were not banned.

What I believe

I am professional with 25 years of business leadership experience, and that has allowed me to experience a hand full of mergers, acquisitions, and startups. What I know is that Big Money means big expectations. Everyone is happy to sign on the dotted line, but most don’t understand the responsibility that comes with these expectations. Major investments have been made, notably with the PPA, the APP, and Ben Johns. It would be a major setback if the face of the PPA gets toppled off of the throne on year one of his reported three-year contract. JW Johnson has already beat Ben in both singles and doubles this year. After the doubles lost, PPA players were vocally towing the PPA line, stating that play was too windy and that future tournaments needed to have provisions for too much wind. In any case, had Ben lost to JW in the US Open, we what we are seeing right now, would pale in comparison to the crap show that would follow.

It has been rumored that Ben and those who have banked on Ben are leading voices of dissent with regards to CRBN paddles. This has put pressures on Ben that he undoubtedly did not expect. In his last appearance of the Freestyle Boy’s podcast, he depicted a 2022 where the APP would quickly become a second-tier organization, the PPA would be the leading organization in all things Pickleball, and the sun would shine every morning on his Pickleball kingdom. What has actually transpired is the field has gotten tougher, the APP is flourishing, and his Big Money backers have been flexing their muscles in order to protect their investment. But it’s getting ugly. The luster of Ben’s name is beginning to tarnish with some fans. People are calling him the poster boy of Joola and the PPA in negative connotations. Some are saying it’s time for a new face of Pickleball.

I take no pleasure in seeing this for Ben or any other person for that matter. However, being the face of an organization means being put in situations that may be unexpected and uncomfortable. Joola and the PPA have made an investment in Ben’s name and status and people will support him or be dissuaded on his brand by the events that are happening right now. To quote the Notorious B.I.G., “Mo Money, Mo Problems”. Good luck Ben, it’s going to be a more interesting year than you expected.

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A pickleball player with who has become infatuated with the game.

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