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Rob Riggle: The Emcee of Pickleball

The actor and comedian spoke with Boardroom ahead of the first-ever National Mall of Pickleball, where he will serve as the official emcee.

Our nation’s capital is already a well-known sports town for the major professional leagues, but on Sept. 28, pickleball will make its mark in DC. The Trust for the National Mall announced plans in partnership with Humana on Thursday to introduce pickleball to America’s most inviting front yard, the National Mall, with the first-ever National Mall of Pickleball.     

This free, three-day event will celebrate America’s seniors and the benefits of the multigenerational sport. Key programming includes:

  • Media tournament: The leading newsrooms of Washington, D.C. will go head-to-head for bragging rights as the “Best Media Picklers” in town.  
  • DMV-area recreation league tournament: Local picklers will take to the courts to determine which league is best in the DMV. 
  • D.C. Pickleball Team: An exhibition match with Major League Pickleball’s newly minted D.C. Pickleball Team. 
  • On-site pickleball lessons and clinics: Presented courtesy of D.C. Pickleball team members Sam Querrey, Riley Newman, and Christian Alshon. 
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Ahead of the festivities, Boardroom caught up with National Mall of Pickleball emcee, actor, and comedian Rob Riggle. Riggle opened up about how he was introduced to pickleball, expanding his audience to reach more sports fans, and of course, his bold predictions for the season as a Kansas City Chiefs superfan.

VINCIANE NGOMSI: Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in America. How did it pique your interest?

ROB RIGGLE: I was introduced to pickleball by a friend when we watched a tournament down in San Clemente. I was actually blown away by how many people were there. It was a massive turnout. I mean, I’ve been to tennis tournaments before, but this was different. I was just impressed with how big it had become. So I said, ‘I got to try to play this thing’ because it looked really fun and it looked very doable.

So I played a little bit and I thought, ‘Oh my God, I could have a lot of fun doing this.’ It’s like a new card game or something. You’re like, ‘Wow, what is this?’ But if you play it a couple of times, you’re like, ‘Oh, I get it. I understand what we’re doing here.’ I also love it because you can play it with anybody if they have any desire — old, young, whatever. I feel like it’s a very inclusive sport.

VN: While you’re in DC for the inaugural National Mall of Pickleball, what do you hope people learn from a sport that may seem relatively unfamiliar to a large number of sports fans?

RR: Pickleball is out there, but I want to raise more awareness. I want more people to get it on their radar. They’ve all probably heard about it, but maybe they haven’t investigated it closer. I hope they do because pickleball is a sport people can play for life. That’ll also get us off our phones and interacting with one another, which is such a huge thing. Anybody in your life that you want to connect to, put your phones down and go do something together. It might as well be something healthy, so play pickleball. It’s wonderful.

VN: Your career began in comedy, but you’ve always found a way to incorporate sports. How do you consistently find yourself in positions where it’s easy to grow and expand your audience?

RR: Well, I am lucky that I’m associated with sports and athletics because I do love ’em. Growing up, I always played sports and I think with especially team sports, there’s so much development that happens as far as your character and personal growth that I’ve always been a fan of. The fact that I got to do comedy and NFL on FOX for a long time was just a dream job. I think probably, in people’s minds, they associate me with sports somehow.

Photo by Jason Hanna/Getty Images

VN: The Kansas City Chiefs didn’t get off to the best start this season. Are you all concerned about their ability to repeat as Super Bowl champions?

RR: I’m not at all worried about the first game of the season. These things happen. Anytime you have Patrick Mahomes on your team, I just don’t sweat it. I don’t sweat life anymore. It’s all going to be good. Everybody will catch up. We got lucky, the Buffalo Bills, the Cincinnati Bengals, and other top teams in the AFC also lost in Week 1 so we’re good. We’re going to come back strong this week.

VN: What are your bold predictions for the season? I know you obviously want to see the Chiefs in Las Vegas, but who do you think they’ll face?

RR: I think there is a distinct possibility that the Chiefs are back in the Super Bowl running it back, but this time against another NFC East team — the Dallas Cowboys. Usually, with the Cowboys, there’s all this hype and then they underdeliver. It’s heartbreaking for those Dallas fans. They go 40 to nothing stomping a division rival. So I’m like, ‘Huh, maybe those Cowboys are up to something.’

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About The Author
Vinciane Ngomsi
Vinciane Ngomsi
Vinciane Ngomsi is a Staff Writer at Boardroom. She began her career in sports journalism with bylines at SB Nation, USA Today, and most recently Yahoo. She received a bachelor's degree in Political Science from Truman State University, and when she's not watching old clips of Serena Williams' best matches, she is likely perfecting her signature chocolate chip cookie recipe or preparing a traditional Cameroonian meal.