A Club Leftist Tennis Manifesto
There is a spectre haunting racket sports—the spectre of pickleball. Unlike the spectre of communism which haunted Europe some decades ago, pickleball is a reactionary spectre, a creature of the neoliberal era. Therefore it is not simply the leftist or the tennis player, but the Leftist Tennis Player who must at this moment enter the great stage of history to exorcize this ghost.
To do so, the Leftist Tennis Player must first accurately assess the threat at hand. Just this week, pickleball was trumpeted by a chorus of elite media praise—“Pickleball is Ready for Primetime” says the New York Times, it’s “sweeping the US” according to the Guardian and to NPR, it’s “America’s fastest growing sport.” Hawking suspiciously similar talking points, these articles, which Gawker correctly observes are likely planted as part of a capitalist conspiracy, note the game popping up in wealthier urban areas, using flimsy yet pricey equipment, brandishing a “fun” aesthetic, forcing terminology better suited to a children’s cooking class like “dillball,” “flabjack,” and “OPA!”
At this point Leftist Tennis Players must understand that behind the spectacle of novelty is the same haggard, cowardly puppetmaster as ever—capital. But under capital’s cartoonishness lies an insidious ideological agenda, one that reaches far beyond the craven pursuit of profit, and toward the seizure of public infrastructure, the dismantling of the state and the destruction of radical collective imagination.
Whether it be Amazon, Uber, or grocery delivery like JOKR or BUYK, we’ve seen this austerity agenda before—a politically connected elite (the recent spat of propagandistic press tends to leave out that pickleball’s founder was a Republican congressman) deploys great wealth to attack a long-stable sector (in this case, the great and historic sport of tennis) under the guise of convenience, speed, and even fun. Though slick PR materials attempt to present pickleball as grassroots movement, even the revanchist New York Times cannot help but mention it has “largely been enjoyed in the privacy of retirement communities, country clubs and the homes of the Hollywood elite.”
In catering to the unquenchable greed of these elites, the first step for Big Pickleball has been to dismantle public infrastructure and rebuild it to cater to said elites. Indeed most literature about pickleball notes that the “sport” and its proponents seek to convert public tennis courts into pickleball courts—not the tennis courts at their fancy country clubs or retirement communities, but the tennis courts enjoyed by the great working people of this country, like you and I. This parasitic attack on public tennis courts is an early clue that pickleball is not truly dedicated to the glory of leisure, or else its supporters would have solidarity with the leisure of tennis players. No, its entire function is to attack existing shared infrastructure, to shrink it, and accordingly shrink the radical horizon of what can be accomplished collectively.
Pickleballers boast of the fad’s low barriers to entry—lower nets, smaller courts, less game-play time. What they really desire is less leisure time for workers, the further entrenchment of the capitalist logic of productivity, and the dismantling of public space. When they invent ridiculous new terminology, it’s because they know the power of hallowed idiosyncratic traditional terminology like “love” and “deuce,” and have calculated that by turning the phraseology into a joke, it will be easier to do away with completely, and replace with the dry, dull language of capital. When they shrink the time of each match, they are demanding that the free time of workers must too be governed by the cruel efficiency of capital. When they try to fit 4 pickleball courts on one tennis court, they are really trying to tell you, the worker, that you can never hope for more tennis courts, you can never hope for more opportunities for leisure, you can never hope for a richer, non-commodified collective life. You will be stuck buying new equipment, packed into smaller courts, into smaller apartments, spending more money from lower paying, more precarious jobs as your limited free time shrinks into oblivion.
We at Club Leftist Tennis stand against these attacks. We pledge to not only oppose the gangrenous spread of pickleball at every turn, but to promote our positive program. We pledge to support every match that drags on into dusk as players decide they deserve to spend a little more time having fun and a little less time working for their boss, to support every communal ladder where skills are honed in comradely competition, every rally between two workers just getting to know each other, every doubles match building wordless solidarity, every groundstroke and serve and overhead that reminds each worker exactly how much raw power they have.
We stand in the great multi-tendency tradition of tennis leftism, from mayors like Fiorello LaGuardia and Democratic Socialists of America member David Dinkins who increased the public tennis infrastructure (and against cop-loving tennis haters like Giuliani and Adams) to the radical socialists who practiced their own Wimbledon.
We stand with every child who lays eyes on a tennis court for the first time and wonders about this oasis of camaraderie and fun, with every senior citizen who has spent a lifetime practicing the traditions of this great game, with every player who wishes there were just a few more open courts to play on and a few more comrades to hit with.
We stand for a future that is both leftist and full of tennis.
But to win this 5-setter against capital, recognition of our opponent is but the first step. The next is to train, compete, and win. To that end, we cry: Leftist tennis players of the world, unite!