When pickleball pro DJ Young was fined for his paddle toss during the recent Vulcan Indoor National Championships, he became the first pickleball pro fined for game-play misconduct.
In a sense, this is a rite of passage for pickleball, which now joins the ranks of other sports that have arrived at monetary responses to player conduct issues.
What happened to DJ Young on that day in the PPA tournament in Lakeville, Minnesota, was odd and unlikely – but not half as strange as the conduct that has resulted in fines for players of other pro sports.
The pickleball fine stemmed from the action in the men’s semi-final doubles match on Feb. 25th between Young and his partner Jay Devilliers against Pablo Tellez and Federico Staksrud.
While standing near the non-volley-zone line, Young hit a volley that went long during match point. In his immediate frustration, he slammed his paddle down hard on the court in front of him.
What happened next was the strangest of bounces. Instead of harmlessly hitting the net in front of Young, his paddle sailed high in the air, popping over the net, and on an angled flight path toward the row of bleachers on the side of the court.
The launched paddle traveled the length of the opposite half-court, before landing among the second row of sideline spectators.
The paddle appeared to fall harmlessly among the spectators, and Young immediately retrieved the paddle while apologizing to spectators and then later in a formal apology on social media.
“I want to apologize to all the people who were affected by this,” he said. “There are a lot of emotions going out there when you’re playing pickleball professionally. There are no excuses, but I’ll be better. Again, sorry to everyone.”
The PPA issued its own response, one that foreshadowed the eventual fine of an undisclosed amount that was levied against Young.
“While the PPA is supportive of the process of self-expression on-court, we cannot tolerate any behaviors that put the safety of others in danger.”
So, what got Young in trouble was the unusual flight path of his paddle toss. If the thrown paddle had harmlessly hit the net or traveled to some unoccupied location on or around the court, it may have passed unnoticed – or at least unfined.
In November, during the PPA Takeya Showcase, Tyson McGuffin was beating Ben Johns 5-2 during a game in their singles match when Johns went on a run, notching seven straight points against McGuffin.
After the seventh point, McGuffin called for a timeout, and before he walked off the court, he slammed his Selkirk Power Air Invicta over his knee, breaking it. That didn’t result in a fine.
It remains to be seen whether fan safety is the only issue that triggers a pickleball player being fined.
In other sports, leagues and organizations have often been open in discussing fines, while policing players for all sorts of behavioral infractions – and not necessarily ones that involve spectator safety.
The New York Yankees once fined their star first-baseman Don Mattingly $250 for not getting a haircut. And when the Denver Broncos football team fined its star linebacker Von Miller for the excessive passing of gas during team meetings, Miller called the fine unjust.
“I keep trying to tell them it’s not healthy if I just sit there and hold it in,” Miller told reporters. “Nobody in the world does that. I just do it more than the average person.”
Quirky NBA guard JR Smith was fined $50,000 by the league for “recurring instances of unsportsmanlike conduct.”
When Smith was playing for the New York Knicks, he would line up with other players while the game was paused for foul shots. While standing in the line of players on the edge of the paint, he’d bend down and pretend to tie his own shoes. But while bending down, he’d reach out to the opponent standing next to him and untie the laces on that player’s shoes.
“It’s unprofessional,” said Smith’s coach at the time, Mike Woodson. “At the end of the day, he’s got to grow up.”
The NBA also fines its players for engaging in non-basketball activities that could put their health at risk. In 2007, that rule resulted in a $500,000 fine against Los Angeles Lakers forward Vladimir Radmonovic.
His infraction: He went snowboarding.
Pro golfers get fined for throwing their clubs, even when they don’t land near anybody. PGA tour golfer Rory McIlroy’s been fined twice for these harmless tosses. In one, he threw a club toward the green after a poor shot, and in another, he tossed his three-iron into a nearby lake during a tournament in 2015 at a tour event in Florida.
“The fine was reduced from $25,000 to $5,000 because I said I was sorry on the TV interview afterward,” he said during an interview with ESPN.
The National Football League has famously tried to rein in touchdown celebrations by issuing fines for the more creative efforts.
After scoring a touchdown, wide receiver Randy Moss got a $10,000 fine for pretending to take off his pants while pantomiming the mooning of Green Bay fans. Another frequent celebration violator, Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson, drew a $20,000 fine for pretending to bribe a referee with a $1 bill while a catch Johnson made was under video review.
The football league also requires its players to be accessible to sports reporters after games. In 2014, Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch despised being interviewed so much that he paid $100,000 in fines for refusing to talk to reporters.
When Major League Baseball managers get tossed from a game for becoming too exuberant in arguing an umpire’s call, they are required to leave the dugout for the rest of the game.
After that happened to former New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine, he tried staying in the dugout by wearing a disguise. He painted on a fake mustache, put on dark glasses, a black T-shirt and wore a hat pulled down low on his forehead.
His disguise wasn’t good enough. It cost him $5,000.
Some misconduct fines are well deserved and not so amusing. The best example of that is the $3 million fine levied against boxer Mike Tyson in 1997 for biting off a piece of an ear from his opponent Evander Holyfield.
So far, nobody’s tried to bite off another player’s ear in pickleball. And it’s safe to say that while Young’s fine may have broken some new ground, pickleball still has a long way to go to catch up with other sports in the bad behavior department.