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The World Before 1973 -- Writer's Poke #323

In 1973, Bobby Riggs challenged the top-rated women’s tennis player to a match, and he easily defeated her: 6-2, 6-1. To add insult to injury, the match occurred on Mother’s Day.

Today, who remembers that match or Riggs’ opponent, Margaret Court? But people still remember the match Riggs had the following September. If Riggs could so handily defeat the #1 female player in the world, surely he could defeat Billie Jean King.

Riggs was 55, and King was 29, but his defeat of Court, 30, proved that age was no obstacle to “male superiority.” King had won back-to-back Wimbledon titles, and while Riggs had won Wimbledon himself, his victory occurred in 1939.

Unlike Riggs’ match with Court, the Riggs-King match would follow standard tennis rules – three sets to win. And King was understandably worried. If she lost the match, she felt like “it would set us back 50 years.” In other words, King wasn’t just playing an exhibition match; she was playing as a representative of the entire female gender. She needed to win to prove to the world that women had a place in the sports world.

Don’t think this was an important match? An estimated 50 million people tuned in to watch “The Battle of the Sexes,” and in the end, King humbled Riggs: 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

According to Martina Navratilova, King’s victory was psychologically significant for all female athletes: "She was a crusader fighting a battle for all of us. She was carrying the flag; it was all right to be a jock." Sure, if King had lost the match, Title IX still would have provided female athletes with equal opportunities, but it is King who deserves the credit for helping to further the perception of female equality to the chauvinist American mindset.

Explain the value of symbolism in events such as the Riggs-King “battle of the sexes.” How can something as simple as a tennis match "change the world"?

“Billie and I did wonders for women’s tennis. They own me a piece of their checks.” – Bobby Riggs


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