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Pickleball and the decline of civility

Playing pickleball on Long Island. Raychel Brightman/Newsday RM/Getty

My daughters have “fallen in with a rough crowd”, says Gerard Baker in The Times. In the local park, they get into fights with other New Yorkers that can get so ugly the authorities have to intervene. But my girls haven’t joined an urban street gang. “They have started playing pickleball.” The sport – a scaled-down version of tennis – is booming in America, but “bringing out the very worst in everyone”. Long lines of picklers waiting their turn get “vocal and even physical” at any hint of slow play. Shouting matches break out between players and locals whose quiet read on a park bench is rendered impossible by the “insistent popping of paddle on ball”.

It’s reflective of a much wider “disintegration in civility” – people today seem more willing to openly confront each other, when in the past the “restraints of discretion” held sway. The problem was exacerbated by Covid, when every social interaction was seen as “potentially deadly”. I remember jogging through Central Park, my mask pulled down so I could breathe, but staying well clear of others. From somewhere in the distance, an “enormous middle-aged woman” covered in a “veritable haberdashery of masks” bellowed at me: “Put your fucking mask on, you fucking asshole! Are you trying to kill me?” Meanwhile technology is turning us into “solipsistic automatons” glued to our screens, and culture wars mean those with different views on gender, say, are considered “threats to our safety”. It’s sad. Pickleball might be bringing Americans together, but it’s only making them realise “how much they detest each other”.