Sunday, May 26, 2013

40 Years Ago - Billie Jean King Beat Bobby Riggs

People may forget how huge the September 1973 tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King was, the game that became a game-changer.

55 year old former tennis champ Bobby Riggs put up $100,000 of his own money that no woman could beat him at tennis. On May 13, 1973 Riggs vanquished Margaret Court, the top female champion, in a best of three set. Billie Jean King, who had originally declined to participate, stepped up to challenge Riggs.

The hype was overwhelming. Promoting the "Battle of the Sexes," Riggs taunted King in the media, emphasising how inferior women were to men. It made for great TV but he hit a nerve. Just as Archie Bunker appealed to racists despite being a parody, chauvinists rallied behind Bobby Riggs, convinced that a woman could never beat a man at any sport.

Worldwide 90 million people watched as King crushed Riggs on the Houston Astrodome court, to this day the largest audience ever for a US tennis match. Odd that something so trivial as a game of tennis could move the needle on women's rights but it did, shoving male chauvinism from the norm to the fringes.

Not long after the historic match-up Billie Jean King was a guest on The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour. Notice they're making gay jokes as they introduced the (closeted at that time) gay athlete; it went right over everyone's heads back then. At the end of this clip Billie Jean King looks very uncomfortable wearing a dress, but then the networks liked females to be properly attired in prime-time.