Cassidy/DeHeart vs. Mediratta/Huo: Reflections on pro pickleballers behaving badly
Pickleball is not for babies.

September 20, 2022

First, a warning: This is a looong post. If you have one of those Therabody compression thingies that all the pros use, plug it in and read this while you settle in and get squeezed in all the right places.

Second, a confession: In addition to one very infamous rec play tantrum, which I’ve written about in The Kitchen, I am guilty of melting down publicly at a big tournament and taking it out on my mixed doubles partner, who is also my hubby. At last year’s 2021 PPA Denver/Rocky Mountain Championships in the 3.5 50+ bracket, a very smart and seasoned team started lobbing over me (5′ 1″). We were unprepared. They had poor Jesse running all over the back court while my short self stood helplessly and short-circuited (pun intended). I won’t go into the ugly details except to say it was uh-uhh-uhhh-gly and I am very glad there isn’t video of that match or the disastrous consolation match that followed. My partner (eventually) forgave me, thank goodness. I am also grateful for the life and sports lessons learned on handling stress and lob retrievals. As my hubby likes to say: “Pickleball is not for babies.” The good news: Jesse and I are still together and competing now at mixed 4.0 50+. We made it to the bronze medal round this weekend at a lovely tournament in Salida (fell short of a medal, but played very well together and remain happily married lol).

All of this is a compassionate and sympathetic preface to the topic of this post, which is not a pleasant one. As some of you may have seen on social media, pro pickleball player Rob Cassidy and his partner, Ryler DeHeart, competed at the APP Chicago Open a few weeks ago in the quarterfinals of a contentious “shootout” event (non-sanctioned, open challenge court with prize money) against Team Gearbox player Neil Mediratta and Jerry Huo. Mediratta and Huo snagged an upset victory over Cassidy (who subbed in for John Cincola) and DeHeart, 11-8, 4-11, 11-5. Here is the full match:

YouTube video

Mediratta posted a clip from the end of the match (as well as a link to the full match) on Reddit, asking for public feedback. Here’s the five-minute snippet of the Great Unraveling — starting with Cassidy pressuring the ref to punish Mediratta/Huo for “delay” of game because they kept checking with the ref to see if they were in the correct positions with the correct server and the correct score. The pushover ref caved to Cassidy’s whining and issued a verbal warning. Contrary to Cassidy’s claim that his opponents were deliberately throwing him off when Cassidy and DeHeart were gaining ground, the full match video shows that Mediratta/Huo checked with the ref whether they were ahead or behind and only took a few seconds or so each time. Cassidy himself, however, caused a rather significant delay of game when his team was losing momentum and he apparently hit himself in the nose. “Gamesmanship,” anyone? The ref allowed Cassidy’s delay of game and Mediratta/Huo did not demand any repercussions/penalty. In fact, Mediratta told me he asked if Cassidy wanted to take a medical timeout so he wouldn’t have to burn a regular timeout. It’s not audible, but the exchange happened around this point:

YouTube video

Joey Gmuer astutely calls out the double standard here:

YouTube video

Yep. It didn’t help matters that the ref called the score wrong multiple times, interrupting play at one point and causing Cassidy to erupt at 47:41. Note that Mediratta, in the spirit of good sportsmanship, suggested that they redo the point after the ref’s error and disruption. The offer only made Cassidy angrier:

YouTube video

The conflict ended with Cassidy spewing profanities (“bullsh*t,” “jackasses,” “&*^%!,” etc.) while DeHeart’s young daughters at on the sidelines. Watch:

YouTube video

There are several posts on Facebook breaking down the breakdown, most of which, by my count, take Cassidy’s side. An analysis on YouTube by Fifth Shot Sports also took Cassidy’s side and echoed Cassidy’s very serious accusation against Mediratta/Huo of deliberately and maliciously interrupting the flow of the game with their questions. At the end, you’ll hear Cassidy refer to Mediratta’s “IQ” — clearly suggesting that Mediratta was employing a cunning tactic to skirt the rules. Listen to Cassidy’s voice start shrieking:

YouTube video

Here’s the Fifth Shot Sports’ dude’s conclusion, describing Mediratta/Huo’s questioning of the ref as an “exploitative” ploy to “get in the opponents’ head:”

YouTube video

We should note that Cassidy is a member of the Rules Committee of USA Pickleball, so he knows full well the following rules:

  • Under Rule 4.B.8, “any player may ask the referee for the score, correct server or receiver, correct player position, and may challenge/confirm the called score. Any player may ask any one or more of these questions.”
  • According to the rules under 13.G.1, abusive behavior and profanity are subject to verbal and technical warnings.

There is nothing under 4.B.8 that specifies a limit on the number of times a player may check with the ref on the score, correct server/receiver, or player position. Furthermore, there is no written guidance on how a ref should determine at what point too many questions constitute a hindrance or delay of game. The word “gamesmanship” has come up several times in social media discussions of this Chicago shizzle-show; it has been invoked repeatedly by Cassidy’s supporters who’ve condemned Mediratta/Huo’s conduct. To which I repeat my hubby’s favorite saying:

“Pickleball is not for babies.”

Psychological warfare — e.g., “getting in your opponents’ heads” — is part of the game, whether it’s a Lucy Kovalova fist in the air; a Julian Arnold “Andiamo;” an Altaf Merchant strut at the net; a Matt Wright staredown; a fake Erne by Vivienne David, or Dekel Bar, or Lindsey Newman, or Tyler Loong; constant middle-squeezing/poach-threatening by any man in mixed doubles; strategic time-outs to slow down momentum; or well-placed lobs over a short person…like the kind that went over my head and got stuck in my head at PPA Denver last summer.

Speaking of psychology, when you accuse someone falsely of engaging in behavior that you yourself are guilty of, that’s called psychological projection. Cassidy’s conduct was textbook behavior of such projection.

This pro-tip isn’t just for pros, but for amateurs at any level competing in tournaments: If you are unable to deal with higher-IQ tactics/strategy/”gamesmanship,” perhaps you should stick to hits-and-giggles (credit to Dayne Gingrich for that great phrase) rec play at the YMCA. Oh, and if you are resorting to repeatedly calling your opponents “jackasses” during a match for outplaying you, maybe it’s time to rethink why you play pickleball. Yoga might help.

I reached out to both Cassidy and Mediratta for their perspectives on what happened in Chicago. Mediratta, to my surprise, bent over backwards not to trash Cassidy. He told me that Cassidy apologized to him privately after the match and that “we’re friends and know each other from the tour.” While he described Cassidy’s behavior as “unacceptable,” he shared with me that the referee of the match “had hearing issues,” which was why he and Huo had to repeatedly ask their questions in order to be heard. Mediratta acknowledged that he and Huo often have trouble keeping track of the score, positions, and correct server. “Jerry is worse than me,” he joked.

From the perspective of us amateurs, it’s refreshing to hear higher-level players acknowledge their flaws and foibles so forthrightly. As those of us who stack know, it is often confusing to keep everything straight and especially more so after side switches, time-outs, and heated rallies. I strongly disagree with all the armchair/sideline critics who have attacked Mediratta/Huo for their constant check-ins with the ref. Mediratta emphatically insisted he “was never trying to do gamesmanship.” He pointed out that he is “well known for not knowing the score.” Here he is prematurely celebrating a win one point too soon at the Arizona Open last year (listen to his mixed doubles partner tell him “we still got one more, Neil”):

YouTube video

And here is Mediratta at the 2022 APP Tour Indianapolis Open with his men’s double partner Rosey Rosenthal losing a match after being called on a wrong server position:

YouTube video

Of course, the takeaway from that match should be to always make sure to check with the ref on correct server/position/score when stacking during high-stakes competition! The context is important for all of those armchair/sideline critics making spurious accusations that Mediratta is guilty of evil “gamesmanship.” He learned from his mistakes and now he’s being excoriated for it.

One interesting thing I learned from Mediratta: In addition to receiving an apology from Cassidy, the ref also apologized to him the next day. This raises some substantive policy questions about standards/accountability for refs, which I sent to USAP Rules Committee chairman Mark Peifer. Dinkheads will update with any response.

Though Cassidy wasn’t thrilled that we were covering this match, he gave me his side of the story and I’m glad he did. First, he explained, since the shootout wasn’t sanctioned, he didn’t take it as seriously as his opponents. “I was there to practice,” he told me.

“As I told Neil and Jerry out of frustration, ‘You guys want it more,’ and they did. I’m honestly thankful to them for the great practice.”

This is interesting, because when Cassidy and DeHeart were up in the match, they certainly seemed to take it more seriously than just “practice.”

Cassidy continued: “I regret swearing and wish the ref stopped me so it didn’t happen more than once.”

Good. Glad he regrets the swearing, but whose ultimate responsibility is it for the stuff that comes out of one’s mouth?

Cassidy did, ultimately, own up: “I cared more about showing Neil and Jerry how I felt about how they were playing more than focusing and winning the match,” he reflected. “I know this is my fault, but I was not there that day with the intention of winning a shootout. Our first match of the event did not even have a ref. This was not a Pro Division event, but I should have known and respected that it was more meaningful and serious to some of the other players in the event. So I apologize for not having an acceptable court etiquette during the match.” 

He also made something clear that everyone who has knocked Mediratta and Huo should know:

“It is important for players of all levels to know that in the rules that there is no limit to how many times you can ask the ref if you are in the correct position, if you are the correct server, and as of 2022, if you are ‘good.’ You can ask every time. and there is nothing wrong with that.”

Cassidy added: “No one should ever hesitate or be ashamed about asking the ref if they are unsure what their score is or who their correct server is. I ask too, and I am super appreciative to the refs for this. I should know, but when I don’t, they always have my back. Thank your ref if they help you out.  The problem I had was how they were bombarding the ref with questions, sometimes at the same time and while asking two different questions. The ref is being asked two yes or no questions, one of which the answer is no and the other which the answer is yes. It was frustrating to witness and be a part of.”

As I noted above, it was frustrating for Mediratta and Huo as well, because they later learned that the ref had hearing issues, which was what caused them to have to repeat their questions. In my opinion, I saw nothing to indicate that the “bombarding” was some sort of nefarious tactic.

If Mediratta and Huo are being falsely accused of dark motives, and I do believe they are being falsely accused, imagine how frustrating it must be to see the continued sliming of your character based on misperceptions and incomplete information across social media.

Cassidy further elaborated on his unhappiness with his opponents. “[M]y side of the court cannot get ready until the serving team is ready. Additionally, asking the ref a question after he/she calls the score constitutes a recalling of the score, which does not always happen and ultimately the receiving team in regards to getting ready to receive can be rushed by this. I felt there was zero attempt by them to remember the score on their own, acting as a default to use the assistance of the referee. They have been known to do this before. The 2 total times I have played against them, the same exact things occurred. I may be wrong but I identified what they were doing as a tactic which I did not agree with and I decided to let them know how I felt about it. I am not proud of acting this way. It is embarrassing. I feel that Neil is a master of getting a rise out of people and with me he succeeded. I felt that they were being disrespectful and I apologize that my response to it was ugly.”

More psychological projection and unjustified maligning of motives. It was no more “disrespectful” for Mediratta/Huo to get the score/position/server wrong, then it was for the ref to repeatedly get the score wrong. He had the clipboard and scoresheet in from him because it is his official job to keep track and keep players on track.

Saying sorry and being sorry are not always the same thing. Continuing to call someone else a master manipulator while pretending to be contrite is kind of, well, manipulative. Better known as a fauxpology.

Takeaway #1: Work hard, play hard, but never forget that life is too short to get all bent out of shape over pickleball. Some of us have learned this the hard way and embarrassed ourselves in public over it. It isn’t worth it risking our family, friends, integrity, or marbles. All the medals, prize money, and fame in the world can’t compensate for lost respect.

Takeaway #2: Cassidy said it himself. I’m going to repeat it in bold one last time for pickleballers of all skill levels, backgrounds, and ages:

“It is important for players of all levels to know that in the rules that there is no limit to how many times you can ask the ref if you are in the correct position, if you are the correct server, and as of 2022, if you are ‘good.’ You can ask every time. and there is nothing wrong with that…No one should ever hesitate or be ashamed about asking the ref if they are unsure what their score is or who their correct server is.”

FULL STOP. No excuses, no rationalizations, no smears, and no tears.

And that leads to Takeaway #3, which my hubby never tires of invoking:

Pickleball. Is. Not. For. Babies.

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