While pickleball is grabbing most of the headlines lately, its diminutive older cousin table tennis has also turned some heads. Specifically during the NFL season and most famously when the Miami Dolphins removed their pingpong table so the team could "focus more intently on upcoming opponents." At least that's what coach Mike McDaniel told the press on October 12th. Tyreek Hill debunked that a day later when he told everyone that they were just being replaced by a higher-quality table.
It was a humorous footnote to the Dolphins' season and I wouldn't bring it up except there was another table tennis-related NFL story just this week. The New York Giants also have a pingpong table in their locker room and it inspired a full column on NJ.com by Steve Politi. It seems that pingpong is at the heart of the Giants improvement this season.
Brian Daboll put the two professional-quality tables in the locker room after he was hired to improve team chemistry — spoiler alert, it worked — and they have been the center of the action at Giants headquarters ever since. The players held a March Madness-style tournament during training camp, and it is rare to see a table unoccupied when the room is open to the media.
The real question is, why didn't the Giants already have a pingpong table? Because it is not unusual for a professional sports locker room to have one. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find a story about a locker room that doesn't at least mention people playing table tennis (or ping-pong or pingpong or ping pong) in passing.
The Giants weren't alone as both the Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers saw team-bonding increase thanks to pingpong tables this season. Jacksonville went 9-8 and has made it to the divisional round of the playoffs, while Carolina went 7-10 and missed the playoffs. There's also a 2018 article from The Buffalo News titled, "Inside the Bills 'dojo of pingpong.'" (Subscription required) The Bills went 6-10 that season so draw your own conclusions.
Of course, Tom Brady was such a competitive pingpong player that he once threw a paddle at a new teammate after a loss. Via Sports Illustrated:
Apparently, No. 12 saw himself to be a pretty good ping-pong player. But Danny Amendola wasfantastic. So after Amendola signed with the Patriots in 2013, the two talked trash with each other over it, and then wound up playing. Amendola wound up winning, and winning pretty handily. As the story goes, Amendola hammered home the last point, and barely could turn around before he heard this whistling go by his ear. Brady’s paddle had come in hot and just missed him. Amendola, I’d heard, looked up expecting to see Brady laughing. Instead, he was getting the death stare. And Amendola—who’d become a trusted target of Brady’s, and Super Bowl hero in his own right—learned a good lesson about Brady that day.
The Patriots would go on to lose the Super Bowl that season, but win the next one. No word on Brady's pingpong record in 2014.
In addition to team-building, pingpong - or the lack thereof - also provides a backdrop for seriousness. The Bengals took the pingpong tables out of the locker room in early December, but they were apparently back in time for the team to be unable to play in the aftermath of the Damar Hamlin incident. His quick recovery also brought players back to the table. Via The Athletic:
“I could kind of bring out myself again,” Boyd said. “I was still really not trying to be bothered and not into the ping-pong, and it was just a little slow until I finally heard some news.”
You know something’s wrong when Boyd isn’t at the ping-pong table ripping forehands and talking trash.
Cincy's love of pingpong was again mentioned in an article last week ahead of their Wild Card win. So who knows why the tables were pulled four wins into a seven-game winning streak.
Finally, we have the Washington Commanders. They got pingpong tables during a locker room makeover a few years back. In the midst of an 8-7-1 season a local radio host cited the pingpong tables as an example of why players might be too complacent. Yet they remained in the locker room until Ron Rivera arrived in 2020 and had them removed. Washington is 0-1 in the postseason during the pingpong-free Rivera era, just as they were during the pingpong-positive late 2010's.
The only thing that remains consistent in these stories is that people appear to like to play table tennis. If you put people in a room with a table, ball and paddles, they're probably going to play. Does it mean they are going to do their actual jobs better or worse? No? Should the next team to build a new stadium make the home locker room big enough to put a pickleball court in the middle? Hell and yes.
The point is, there is no point except match point. This is absolute filler. It provides the most basic color for a piece about a locker room. It's an analog version of stories about guys playing video games. (Hey, remember when the Boston Red Sox won the World Series, banned Fortnite the next season and missed the playoffs?) Please stop relying on pingpong for team-building and content.