The Truth About The Battle Of The Sexes

What Was The Battle of the Sexes?

With the movie featuring Emma Stone and Steve Carrell released in 2017, a lot more people have become aware of the “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match that took place in 1973. In many ways, this publicity has been great for tennis and has provided for a lot of non-tennis enthusiast indulge in the sport. However, because of all the attention of non-tennis fans, the context of the match has been wildly misrepresented. To help clarify, this article will not only breakdown how we got to the “Battle of the Sexes” but also what happened during the match and the aftermath of it.

Leading Up To The Battle Of The Sexes

After a very successful tennis career including three Grand Slam singles titles, Bobby Riggs began working a boring office job promoting the sport. Bobby just wasn’t cut out for this job, he loved the spotlight too much. By early 1973, he became so bored that he began to take jabs at the women’s side of the game. He actually was so immersed in his bashing of the women’s game that at the age of 55 he began demanding to face top-ranked players. And, to his credit, he lured the 64 time Grand Slam champion Margaret Court into playing him. At the time, Court was in the prime of her career at the age of 30, but this meant nothing to the chauvinistic Riggs. On May 13, he crushed Court with his bag of hustling tricks en route to an easy 6-2, 6-1 victory. This match would become known as the “Mother’s Day Massacre.”

The Battle Of The Sexes Part II

Quite possibly, the information in the last paragraph was news to you. That is because often the match between Riggs and Court is overshadowed by Riggs’ next match. Immediately after his victory against Court, Riggs called out his next opponent saying, “Now I want King bad.” He said, “I’ll play her on clay, grass, wood, cement, marble or roller skates . . . We got to keep this sex thing going. I’m a woman specialist now.” This message was one Billie Jean King did not want to hear, but she knew she must compete to abolish the preconceived notions of women’s tennis. So, in July of 1973, King agreed to a $100,000 winner-take-all match against Riggs.

The Spectacle Of The Battle Of The Sexes

On September 20, 1973, Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs entered a packed Houston Astrodome with a statement to make. Granted, Riggs’ statement was one of slight playfulness and King’s a much more serious one. Nonetheless, these statements were made in front of some of the biggest celebrities in the world including Jim Brown, Andy Williams, and George Foreman. King arrived on a gold litter carried by four shirtless members of the Rice University track team. While Riggs made his grand entrance via rickshaw, surrounded by his group of “Bobby’s bosom buddies.” As they met at center court, King bestowed a baby pig to Riggs in reference to his chauvinistic ways, and Riggs gave King a giant Sugar Daddy lollipop.

Let The Games Begin

To start the match, Riggs broke King early to go up 3-2. But, just as soon as Riggs gained the lead, he gave it right back. King went on to win the first set 6-4. It was all downhill from there for Riggs, his usual tricks weren’t working against King. Every lob or drop shot he hit, she was there to put it away for an easy point. By the end, she took an easy straight-set victory 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. After his defeat, Riggs was unusually humble in his interview, and that ended the “Battle of the Sexes.”

Wait…Riggs Threw The Match

Maybe this wasn’t the true end to the battle of the sexes. It has been reported that Bobby Riggs threw the match in an attempt to pay off gambling debts he owed to the mob. When I first heard this I thought there was no way he would throw that match. It wouldn’t make sense for him to bash women’s tennis and then purposefully lose. But, then I looked closer at the match, consider these things:

  • Just a few months earlier, Riggs dismantled King’s superior in Margaret Court. 
  • Riggs was unusually kind about losing and his pride didn’t seem hurt (he wasn’t trying). 
  • King refused to take Riggs up on a rematch that was included in their contract. 

On top of all these things, an ESPN Outside The Lines article published in 2013 quoted Riggs’ son claiming his father felt that he had made a terrible mistake and was depressed for six months following the match. Once you consider all of these things, it isn’t hard to imagine that Riggs threw the match. Sadly, Riggs passed away from prostate cancer in 1995, so the world will never know.

The Aftermath Of The Battle Of The Sexes

Despite all of the glamour surrounding the event, there was a deeper-rooted message to the “Battle of the Sexes.” Between the lines, it was a fight for women’s equality and respect in the world of sports. Billie Jean King showed that women can play a sport just as well, if not better, than a man. A few years later in 1992, top-ranked male Jimmy Connors and top-ranked female Martina Navratilova played in another historic “Battle of the Sexes.” Even though Navratilova had a few predetermined advantages, Connors still won 7-5, 6-2. Ultimately, no matter how you view these matches, regardless of gender, everybody deserves an equal opportunity.

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