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Bobby Riggs And Billie Jean King

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The Straight Dope: Was the Battle of the Sexes tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs fixed?

Was the "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs fixed?

As I just turned 70 and know my time on earth is limited I'd appreciate an answer to my question. Years ago I watched on TV the "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King. Just before the match it was announced that King would be able to hit to the doubles court while Riggs would have to hit to the smaller singles court, and also that he would only get one serve to her two. I cannot get confirmation of this. I have searched all over for a video of the match and it doesn't exist. My question: was the tennis match played fairly?

Don't worry, Wayne. I bumped your question to the front of the line so you can die a happy man.

Let's go back to a year in history featuring an unpopular President embroiled in scandal, a pointless war that was winding down after killing thousands of American troops and untold numbers of the enemy, and a country sliding into recession. No, I don't mean 2008, I mean 1973.

The architect of the manufactured drama in tennis that year was Bobby Riggs, who’d been a number-one-ranked singles player in the 1940s but at age 55 was well past his prime. Possibly envious of the big bucks women tennis players were starting to command and fully aware of male grumbling about women's lib, Riggs decided to stage a money-making publicity stunt: a showdown between himself and a top female player, to demonstrate that women’s tennis was plainly inferior to the men’s game.

Riggs pursued Margaret Court, Chris Evert, and Billie Jean King, three of the top four women’s players that year. King and Evert turned him down, but Court, attracted by a prize of $10,000 even if she lost, accepted. Big mistake. Riggs went on a months-long heavy-duty training regimen and waged a relentless campaign in the press aimed at psyching Court out. His strategy worked, and their match on Mother's Day, 1973, became known as the "Mother's Day Massacre," with Riggs dominating the best-of-three-sets event 6-2, 6-1.

Riggs — a genuinely maddening figure to feminists of the day — then stepped up the media blitz, giving bombastic interviews, appearing in photo shoots as Henry VIII, even playing a match in drag. He hounded King for a second battle of the sexes. After much soul-searching, King agreed to a $100,000 winner-take-all purse plus at least $75,000 per player in ancillary rights.

But this time things were different. King scrutinized Riggs's match with Court and determined to play hard and keep him running, using his age against him. Twenty-nine and at the peak of her game, she trained like a prizefighter, while Riggs spent the time before the match drinking, sleeping with assorted admirers, and keeping up a constant stream of media antics, rarely setting foot on a tennis court to practice. Nonetheless, Jimmy the Greek gave Riggs 5-2 odds to win.

The pair met in the Astrodome on September 20, 1973. The preliminaries were pure kitsch — King was carried in on a litter like an eastern potentate, Riggs rode in a gilded rickshaw pulled by a squad of women. But things got serious once the match began. With the inimitable Howard Cosell in the broadcast booth, 30,492 spectators in the building plus millions watching on TV saw King kick Riggs's butt. She relentlessly attacked with a fierce net game, and Riggs soon knew he was in trouble. "Comedy has gone out of Bobby Riggs," Cosell intoned. By the end of the match, which he lost 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, Riggs felt every one of his 55 years.

Was it all (you should pardon the expression) rigged? My assistant Una acquired a tape of the original broadcast and watched the entire match, commercials and all. She confirmed that the competitors played by the same rules and said King clearly dominated from the start. Riggs, though outclassed, gave no impression of taking a dive — on the contrary, he was so apparently confident he'd get a second wind that after losing the first game he tried to make a $10,000 bet he'd win the match. He later took a much publicized lie detector test to support his insistence he hadn't thrown the contest, a story he stuck with to his dying day.

You and other doubters are likely conflating the King-Riggs event with a 1992 match between Jimmy Connors and Martina Navratilova, which Una also watched on video. This was a far less heated affair, with the two players amiably discussing beforehand how the game would raise awareness of the sport. But the 40-year-old Connors was a much more formidable competitor than Riggs had been, having reached the U.S. Open semifinals the previous year, and Navratilova was 35 herself. So, to even things up, Connors was limited to one serve per point and Navratilova was allowed to hit into half of the doubles alley on each side of the court. Despite the handicap Connors won 7-5, 6-2, taking just 88 minutes to make half a million bucks.

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References

Amdur, Neil "Mrs. King Defeats Riggs, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, Amid a Circus AtmosphereВ New York Times 21 September, 1973.

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Battle of the Sexes Movie vs the True Story of Billie Jean King, Bobby Riggs

Battle of the Sexes (2017)

Born: November 6, 1988

Scottsdale, Arizona, USA

Born: November 22, 1943

Birthplace: Long Beach, California, USA

Born: August 16, 1962

Concord, Massachusetts, USA

Born: February 25, 1918

Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, USA

Death: October 25, 1995, Leucadia, Encinitas, California, USA (prostate cancer)

Born: October 6, 1963

Wilmington, Delaware, USA

Born: November 25, 1926

Birthplace: New York, USA

Death: March 19, 1995, San Diego, California, USA

Born: December 1, 1970

Bedford, New Hampshire, USA

Born: May 13, 1922

Birthplace: New York City, New York, USA

Death: June 22, 2003, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA (suicide by gunshot)

Born: December 24, 1984

Kensington, Connecticut, USA

Born: January 30, 1945

Birthplace: Dayton, Ohio, USA

Born: December 17, 1953

Hornell, New York, USA

Born: August 1, 1921

Birthplace: Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

Death: September 12, 2009, Bel Air, California, USA (soft tissue cancer)

Born: November 20, 1981

Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland, England, UK

Born: January 27, 1965

Aberfeldy, Perthshire, Scotland, UK

Born: June 23, 1910

Birthplace: Eastbourne, England, UK

Death: May 23, 1990 (respiratory complications)

Kendall, Florida, USA

Born: September 16, 1948

Birthplace: San Francisco, California, USA

Born: May 31, 1977

Eugene, Oregon, USA

Born: October 11, 1984

Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada

Born: April 16, 1949

Birthplace: Hamtramck, Michigan, USA

Questioning the Story:

Was Billie Jean King in a relationship with her secretary, Marilyn Barnett?

Yes. The Battle of the Sexes true story confirms that Billie Jean King (pictured below) began an intimate relationship with her secretary in 1971. She publicly acknowledged her relationship with Marilyn Barnett in 1981 and became the first prominent American athlete to openly admit to having a gay relationship. King's admission was in part because Barnett had sued her for lifetime support, as well as the Malibu beach house where she had been staying that she said King had promised her.

In a 60 Minutes interview, Bobby Riggs said that in the weeks leading up to the match he was taking roughly 135 pills three times a day. "Anything that's going to make you healthy and stronger, I'm going to go with it," said Riggs. Though he's seen taking bunches of pills at a time in the interview, it's likely that Riggs was exaggerating this as part of his act in the lead up to the Battle of the Sexes match.

Yes. Fact-checking the Battle of the Sexes movie confirmed that Bobby Riggs won Wimbledon in 1939 as a 21-year-old amateur. He was ranked number one in the world (or co-No. 1) in 1939 and as a professional in 1946 and 1947. He was twice the United States singles champion, winning the US Open in 1939 and 1941.

Yes. The match took place at the San Diego Country Estates, 38 miles northeast of San Diego. Australian Margaret Court, 30, was a 3-time Wimbledon champion and 4-time Women's Singles champion of the United States. She was ranked number one and was the current leading money winner on the women's pro tour, playing some of her best tennis. Riggs, 55, walked onto the court and presented her with a bouquet of Mother's Day flowers. Around 5,000 spectators were on hand for the match, including celebrities like John Wayne, O.J. Simpson, Bill Cosby, and former tennis great Pancho Segura. The No. 1-ranked Court was paid $10,000 to play in the match. Riggs' lobs and drop shots proved to be too much for Margaret Court and he won 6-2, 6-1. "I didn't expect him to mix it up like that," she told reporters after the match that became known as the "Mother's Day Massacre." "We girls don't play like that." Watch Margaret Court vs. Bobby Riggs match highlights. -History.com

Bobby Riggs had claimed that women's tennis was far inferior to the male game and that even at 55 he could still beat any of the top female tennis players. Riggs had challenged Billie Jean King before he played Margaret Court, but she had declined. After beating Court, Riggs continued flaunting his claim and the 29-year-old King accepted his challenge, viewing the match not as a publicity stunt but rather a chance to defend women's tennis and gender equality as a whole. "I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn't win that match," King said later. "It would ruin the women's tour and affect all women's self-esteem." Billie Jean King had been fighting for equal pay in tennis, as emphasized by her character's scenes with Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman) in the movie. She was worried after Margaret Court's loss that her efforts would endure a setback if she didn't beat Bobby Riggs herself. -History.com

Did Bobby Riggs really make chauvinist remarks about women belonging in the kitchen and bedroom?

Yes. Though it was somewhat obvious that, like in the movie, Riggs was a showman and his chauvinism was largely an act he put on to hype up his Battle of the Sexes match against Billy Jean King. As depicted in the Battle of the Sexes movie, during one of his real-life rants he stated, "Women belong in the bedroom and kitchen, in that order." A press conference for the much-hyped match found Riggs stating, "I'll tell you why I'll win. She's a woman and they don't have the emotional stability." King replied by calling Riggs a "creep." Riggs even took shots at King's battle for equal pay for women players, saying, "Women play about 25 percent as good as men, so they should get about 25 percent of the money men get." -History.com

Yes. Bobby Riggs had been married to Priscilla Wheelan, who is portrayed by Elizabeth Shue in the movie. In researching the Battle of the Sexes true story, we discovered that Wheelan was Riggs' second wife. They were married in 1952 and divorced in 1971, less than two years before the Battle of the Sexes match. Interestingly, Riggs and Priscilla Wheelan remarried in 1991, and the two were together until his death from prostate cancer in 1995. Wheelan's family was very wealthy and the sole owner of the $20 million American Photograph Corp. After retiring from professional tennis in 1959, Riggs' was given an executive position at the company, where he remained for a number of years, despite having little motivation to succeed as a businessman.

The true story reveals that an estimated worldwide television audience of 90 million (50 million in the U.S.) tuned in to watch the Battle of the Sexes match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs on Thursday, September 20, 1973. The match took place at the Houston Astrodome where 30,472 were in attendance, the largest audience to ever watch a tennis match in the United States. -60 Minutes

Yes. À la Cleopatra, Billy Jean King entered the tennis court on a feather-adorned litter carried by four muscular bare-chested men dressed like ancient slaves. Bobby Riggs similarly arrived in a ricksaw pulled by scantily dressed female models he called "Riggs' Bosom Buddies." King gave Riggs a piglet as a symbol of male chauvinism after Riggs handed her a giant Sugar Daddy lollipop (Riggs also wore a yellow Sugar Daddy jacket that he removed after the third game). King had on a pair of blue suede sneakers. Riggs planned to give the pig back to King years later after it was fully grown but he never did.

Yes. Even though Billie Jean King was behind early in the first set, she came back to win in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. Allegations of match-throwing were widespread, with some believing that Riggs bet against himself in order to win large sums of money. Such allegations weren't entirely unfounded. A 2013 ESPN Outside the Lines article featured a man who claimed Riggs threw the match in order to pay off gambling debts he owed to the mob. However, in that same article, Riggs' good friend and executor of his estate, Lornie Kuhle, strongly denied any such suggestion and said that Riggs had never been in debt to the mob. After hearing the claims that Riggs threw the match, Billie Jean King told ABC News, "He was trying his guts out every point."

Yes. They never really hated each other before the match and became quite close after. "I really respected him and liked him," King said in an ABC News interview. "He was one of my heroes. I stayed in touch with Bobby. The night before he passed away I talked to him. . I told him I loved him and he told me he loved me, and I think he was proud of himself." King said that Riggs had many layers to his character, and like her own inner struggle with her sexual identity at the time, Riggs had a lot of turmoil going on in his life too, including having been recently divorced.

Yes. In exploring the Battle of the Sexes true story, we learned that a made-for-television movie titled When Billie Beat Bobby aired on ABC in 2001. It starred Holly Hunter as Billie Jean King and Ron Silver as Bobby Riggs. A documentary, also titled Battle of the Sexes, was released by New Black Films in 2013.

"Every time I see it I'm just in awe of each of the actors and what they brought to it," Billie Jean King told The Hollywood Reporter. "It was just so authentic, and so real, and accurate." King worked with Emma Stone and the filmmakers in order to help them get it right.

Yes. While fact-checking the Battle of the Sexes movie, we learned that there have been quite a few notable matches of male vs. female tennis players, dating all the way back to 1888 when the men's Wimbledon champion, Ernest Renshaw, took on the ladies' champion, Lottie Dod. Dod started each game with a 30-0 advantage but lost in three sets (2-6, 7-5, 7-5).

Below we serve up a selection of videos, including a Bobby Riggs interview from before the 1973 Battle of the Sexes match. In another video, Billie Jean King is interviewed and looks back on the match 40 years later, discussing her enduring friendship with Riggs.

Billie Jean King Talks Bobby Riggs, Battle of the Sexes and Title IX at the U

Billie Jean King Won That Battle of the Sexes for You

The tennis out at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Wednesday night ranged from the prosaic— Venus Williams ’s, shall we say, “efficient” straight-sets victory over France’s Océane Dodin—to the thrilling: Denis Shapovalov’s stunning upset of eighth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. But we’d venture to say that the real thrill to be had in Flushing last night happened behind the scenes in the Citizen box, where Billie Jean King herself—winner of 39 Grand Slam titles, hall of famer, living legend, the whole package—stopped by for a visit.

After King said some very nice words about the new Citizen Eco-Drive special edition with her name on it, I had a chance to ask her: Does the obsessive focus on one groundbreaking match that she played—her 1973 victory over Bobby Riggs (the subject of next month’s Battle of the Sexes , with Emma Stone playing her, and Steve Carell playing Riggs)—overshadow the rest of her wildly successful, wildly varied career?

Let’s just say that she took the question, she ran with it, she hit it with an overhead smash, and she shook its hand at the net. King’s answer, below:

“I knew it would [overshadow the rest of my career] when I played it. Nine million people watched that game. In those days, 95 percent of the media was controlled by men, and they didn’t care about us that much until we were in their arena—the men’s arena. Now they cared. So I knew that would happen when I played Bobby. Now it was about them.

But the reason I beat him was because I respected him so much—he was one of my heroes, and he didn’t get the attention I thought he deserved. He knew very little about me, but that goes back to dominant groups knowing very little about subdominant groups. Subdominant groups know a lot about the dominant groups, because we have to navigate their terrain all the time. That’s another reason I like girls to get into sports—it helps them navigate our real-life culture, especially business culture. Ninety-five percent of women in C-suites identify with being an athlete—it teaches you teamwork, leadership qualities, supportive roles, leadership roles—all of those things are important things to help you get through your day, even with your own family.

I also wanted the attention for something else: Title IX passed on June 23, 1972, and I played Bobby on September 20, 1973. I really tried to help Title IX get passed, and to influence it. Before 1972, there was a gender quota in the classroom: If you were a woman and wanted to go to Harvard and get your medical degree, they only allowed you to be 5 percent of the classroom. But Title IX opened everything up: It’s 37 words that basically say ‘no sex discrimination,’ and it’s one of the most important pieces of legislation ever in the 20th century. It guaranteed equal protection if you received federal funds—high school, colleges, university. It’s also the first time a girl could receive an athletic scholarship—boys had gotten them since the 1600s or whenever they first had sports here—I think Harvard was founded in 1636—and the first time a woman got any kind of athletic scholarship was 1972, because of Title IX. At that time, women couldn’t get a credit card on their own without a male cosigning it.

I say all this because the more you learn about history, the more you can shape the future in better ways. All that is why I beat Bobby Riggs.”

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The Real Reason Billie Jean King Beat Bobby Riggs Has Nothing To Do With Tennis

The Real Reason Billie Jean King Beat Bobby Riggs Has Nothing To Do With Tennis

According to the legend herself, the reason Billy Jean King won the infamous Battle of Sexes tennis match in 1973 actually has nothing to do with the sport itself. Then 29, King beat 55-year-old former Wimbledon champion Bobby Riggs in three sets. The famed showdown, which was televised and viewed by more than 90 million people, was prompted by Riggs, a self-proclaimed male chauvinist, in an attempt to squash the feminist discourse of the time. If he could beat King, he reasoned, it would prove that a woman's place was in the kitchen and the bedroom — not the tennis court (or anywhere else, for that matter.) With this heated clash of ideals having been brought to life in 2017's Battle of the Sexes starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell, the woman who beat Riggs on the court so many decades ago claims it wasn't her physical skill alone that contributed to conquering her contender.

Sitting down with King at the W hotel in Los Angeles, the legendary player, now 73, recalls the moment she beat Riggs as if it was yesterday. She sits on the edge of the couch, wearing a structured red blazer, bright red lipstick, and a single strand of pearls around her neck, in a look that is almost presidential.

"I loved Bobby, he was one of my heroes," she says, admitting that she was actually a huge fan of her opponent before — and during — their widely publicized brawl. "I wanted him to be appreciated, but the reason I beat him is because I respected him. My dad always said, 'Always respect your opponent, even if you don't like them.' Never, ever underestimate your opponent — ever."

"Respect always wins, because you can put your head on your pillow at night and know you did the right thing."

While King was clearly opposed to every degrading sentiment that came out of Riggs' mouth, she was able to respect his abilities as an athlete, his endurance, and his impressive track record. Unfortunately, Riggs couldn't say the same for King, and the 1973 champion attributes that lack of respect to her ultimate win.

"After [I won], he jumped the net and said, 'I underestimated you.' I couldn't believe it," she says, shaking her head. "Respect always wins, because you can put your head on your pillow at night and know you did the right thing."

Riggs' utter lack of respect for his opponent speaks to a larger cultural conflict women continue to face even now. Women make 79 cents on every dollar earned by men, they make up only 17 percent of board members, and only 20 percent of Congress. Not to mention, between one-fifth and one-half of female veterans were sexually harassed while on active duty, and the list of injustices and inequalities tragically goes on and on. This blatant lack of consideration persists in many arenas of culture today, nearly 45 years after King crushed her misogynistic challenger on the court. Because of this, King stresses the need for women to, first and foremost, respect themselves. This means asking for more money, yes, but also asking for other needs, too.

"Women are taught not to ask for what they want, but we need to. Think about it, really visualize yourself doing it, and don't care what the answer is," she says. "If there's a 'no,' there's another opportunity some other place. Keep going. Ask for what you want and need. Do your homework. Most CEOs are men, so we have to convince them to give us what we want."

And according to the activist, most sports writers at the time of her match were men, too. Because of this, she developed a way in which to speak to press conferences full of men that would show them that she both respected and understood them.

"In my day, if you use the word 'feminist,' a lot of people get turned off immediately, so I really had to walk a tightrope," she says.

In order to get her ideas about equality heard, she would have a conversation about what the word "feminist" meant with the male-heavy room.

"I'd say, 'Before we start, let's get real clear what things mean. if I use the word feminist, this is what it means to me. It means equal rights and opportunities for everybody, men and women. We don't hate men,'" she says. "I had to go through this educational process."

But strangely, and sadly, the conversation surrounding the word "feminist" hasn't changed all that much. Even though we know the word simply means equality, according to Forbes writer Kathy Caprino, "There are thousands who believe in equal rights but find 'feminism' a word and a movement that doesn’t align with their personal beliefs or values." King struggled to popularize the term at the time, and women still face this same difficulty decades later.

But this is only one struggle when it comes to equality as a whole. Women have hurdles to face within themselves, too, such as learning self-love. King laments the constant bombardment of images that may make women and girls feel bad about their bodies.

"Look at the commercials on TV," she says. "They're horrible. They say, 'I lost 50 pounds, and I feel more sexy,' but if your self-esteem is reliant on that, you're in trouble."

Of course, self-love is, sadly, easier said than done. For King, this shift in thinking can be accomplished by loving and supporting other women. "We have to keep reinforcing each other, and then men have to reinforce us, too," she says.

And King puts her money where her mouth is, having started more than one organization that seeks to empower and aid her fellow women. В The Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative and the Women's Sports Foundation both aim to give resources to help women and girls achieve power and fulfillment as leaders and in sports teams.

King may have won the Battle of the Sexes in 1973, but it's clear that there are still many battles yet to be won on behalf of women everywhere — on and off the court. Because the real reason Billie Jean King won the fabled match had nothing to do with the sport of tennis — and neither did the reason she chose to take on Riggs in the first place.

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