Starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell, the movie, hit theatres this weekend, tells the true story of the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs – dubbed as “the Battle of the Sexes”. The match took place 44 years ago this month.
The match was significant from a woman’s standpoint and representation of women in the international sports scene. King went on to defeat Riggs in straight sets as 90 million people watched on TV.
As the rivalry between King and Riggs kicked into high gear, off-court they both were fighting personal battles. Riggs a self-proclaimed male chauvinist said he could beat any woman tennis player.
The fiercely private King told NPR in 2008: “we had just started women’s professional tennis, and it was a very difficult time for us. . . . Bobby kept saying, Play me, play me, and I said, Bobby, we’re so busy, I’m so busy, I don’t have time.”
Held in the Houston Astrodome on September 20, 1973 had a winner-take-all prize of $100,000. The court was filled with 30,000 spectators and King was carried out on an Egyptian “litter” (throne) by the Rice University men’s track team. She wore a tennis dress with a splash of sequins designed by Ted Tinling, “I would never,” she says, “have worn pink.”
Today in 1973: Billie Jean King defeats Bobby Riggs in a $100K winner-takes-all "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match. pic.twitter.com/fLU2aC4BAz
— Biography.com (@biography) September 20, 2016
Riggs followed in a rickshaw and wore a red and yellow shirt that said Sugar Daddy. The rickshaw was drawn by scantily clad women he called his “bosom buddies.” Riggs presented King with a giant Sugar Daddy lollipop, and King responded by giving him a piglet, symbolic of male chauvinism. King, won in straight sets, 6–4, 6–3, 6–3.
Effect On Woman’s Tennis
King knew that winning the match would have an extremely positive effect on women’s liberation movement as a whole. She said later, “I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn’t win that match. It would ruin the women’s tour and affect all women’s self-esteem.”
“A lot of women weren’t raised with the idea that competing was something they should do. Along came Billie Jean, just at the moment when a lot of the rhetoric of the women’s movement was really meeting reality,” – Hillary Clinton on ESPN Classic’s SportsCentury series.
‘She convinced her colleagues to form a players’ union, and the Women’s Tennis Association was born. King was its first president in 1973. King, who received $15,000 less than Ilie Nastase did for winning the U.S. Open in 1972, said if the prize money wasn’t equal by the next year, she wouldn’t play, and she didn’t think the other women would either. In 1973, the U.S. Open became the first major tournament to offer equal prize money for men and women.’ ESPN Classic
King believes that she was born with a destiny to work for gender equity in sports!
Image: Fox Searchlight Pictures / Source: ESPN Classic