On September 20th of 1973, tennis star Billie Jean King, age 29, defeated tennis champ Bobby Riggs, age 55, in what was known as “The Battle of the Sexes.” The match was a huge media event with more than three thousand spectators, and another 50 million people watching it on TV. Her win was considered a huge boost for the women's liberation movement.
Problem is, the matched was totally fixed. Riggs threw the match. They don't call him Riggs for nothing. Bobby Riggs was a big time gambler who owed a lot of money to a bookie somewhere. It was either his idea or the bookie's idea to throw the match to Billie Jean King, because everyone would be betting on Bobby Riggs, who was an overwhelming favorite to win, a former number one player, and by the way, a man.
Neither age nor gender played any part in King's victory. Men have a physical strength that women lack, which is why men and women are separated in sports. Riggs could have easily defeated Billie Jean King. In fact, his style of play was visibly atrocious. This former number one in the world player kept missing shots he could have easily hit. It was obvious, even then, that Riggs was throwing the match. No one could say why, but it was assumed that there was money involved.
However, the misbehavior of Bobby Riggs does not detract from the reality that Billie Jean King was the best female tennis player of all time. She has won 39 Grand Slam titles, which included 26 singles, 16 women's doubles, and 11 mixed doubles. In her day, she often represented America in the Federation Cup and the Wightman Cup. She won a record breaking 20 titles at Wimbledon. Altogether, King won 129 singles titles. Her prize money totaled very nearly two million dollars, which was worth even more back in the 1970s than it is today.
Billie Jean King was the founder of both the Women's Tennis Association and the Women's Sports Foundation. In 1987, she was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. She has tennis centers named after her, and has won too many awards to mention. King is also a famous advocate for gender equality.
Billie Jean King was born Billie Jean Moffitt in Long Beach, California, in 1942. Her younger brother, Randy Moffitt, would grow up to become a pitcher on a major league baseball team. Billie Jean started her athletic career as a child, playing softball. Despite her obvious talent for the game, her mother suggested she take up tennis, which seemed (to her mother) more ladylike. So Billie Jean Moffitt learned to play tennis on the free public courts in Long Beach. At the age of 15, she commenced her Grand Slam career at the U.S. Championships.
Since then, Billie Jean King has won many Grand Slam titles, graced many magazine covers, appeared on TV, and founded a number of organizations. But Billie Jean, through no fault of her own, will always be most well remembered for that big fat media circus that surrounded the life of Bobby Riggs.