King vs. Riggs, 1973: The Battle of the Sexes

I spent part of my day yesterday listening to Marc Maron interview Billie Jean King. It’s a good interview, Maron doing great work these days on his podcast. He keeps it going and does his homework.

Because this event, The Battle of the Sexes, happened 48 years ago, I don’t imagine many readers are familiar with King, so a little background. I will quote directly from Wikipedia, as I do not imagine they have any reason to lie about her accomplishments.

King’s Open in 1972 made her only the fifth woman in tennis history to win the singles titles at all four Grand Slam events, a “career Grand Slam”.[a] She also won a career Grand Slam in mixed doubles. In women’s doubles, only the Australian Open eluded her.

King won a record 20 career titles at Wimbledon – six in singles, 10 in women’s doubles, and four in mixed doubles.[b]

King played 51 Grand Slam singles events from 1959 through 1983, reaching at least the semi-finals in 27 and at least the quarterfinals in 40 of her attempts. King was the runner-up in six Grand Slam singles events. An indicator of her mental toughness in Grand Slam singles tournaments was her 11–2 career record in deuce third sets, i.e., third sets that were tied 5–5 before being resolved.[citation needed]

King won 129 singles titles,[21] 78 of which were WTA titles, and her career prize money totaled US$1,966,487.[22]

In Federation Cup finals, she was on the winning United States team seven times, in 1963, 1966, 1967, and 1976 through 1979. Her career win–loss record was 52–4.[c] She won the last 30 matches she played,[d] including 15 straight wins in both singles and doubles.[23] In Wightman Cup competition, her career win–loss record was 22–4,[e] winning her last nine matches.[f] The United States won the cup ten of the 11 years that she participated. In singles, King was 6–1 against Ann Haydon-Jones, 4–0 against Virginia Wade, and 1–1 against Christine Truman Janes.[24]

That is impressive. King was a superb athlete, the best female tennis player of her era. She is now 78 years old, and judging by the Maron interview, sharp as a tack. I take nothing away from her talents nor do I question her integrity. She was integral in bringing women’s tennis to the public mind and allowing women to make as much money as men in the sport.

Bobby Riggs (1918-1995) was also an accomplished athlete, with many titles to his name. However, he was well past his prime when in 1973 he challenged King to a tennis match. I have not thought about this event in many a year, but here is a sampling of what King had to deal with in that era, since she was gay … a joke that made the rounds: The lead advertiser for the event, called The Battle of the Sexes, was Snap On Tools. That’s crude, I know, and being gay in 1973 was no treat. King had a lot to overcome.

World wide, 90 million people watched the event live on ABC TV, including 50 million Americans. In those days we had three choices for TV, CBS, NBC and ABC, Assembling massive audiences was not unusual. (The 2021 Superbowl drew 91.6 million viewers.)

But then I thought … “Riggs”? Really? Bobby Riggs? Are they taunting us? As the match went, he played very poorly. King fell behind in the first set, and then went on to win 6-4 6-3 6-3. There was noise at the time that he had thrown the match, and decades later it would be revealed (and denied) that Riggs was deeply in gambling debt, and needed money to pay off Mafioso. Wikipedia admits that he gambled on the event.

So there’s that. My first thought was that King, who was paid the equivalent of $583,000 (winner take all) in today’s money, was being promoted by Intel, with or without her knowledge, as I have long suspected that Intel was behind the feminist movement. I say that with the understanding that the movement’s success has made life far more bearable for women who want choices and careers, and that this is a good thing to have happened. Still, the push behind it was not, in my view, organic. It needed help from high up. (I say the same thing about the Civil Rights Movement, and with the same attitude: Blacks needed a hand up. It was a good thing.)

Some have said that more than a Battle of the Sexes, Riggs vs King was a battle of age versus youth, King 26 and Riggs 55, 29 years older. That is true, it was in that regard a mismatch. King herself said in the Maron interview that the best man will always win over the best woman in any sport, and it was never her objective to change that fact of life. (These days, with men claiming to be women in so many sports, that’s not such a sure thing. In King’s day there was a male tennis player who had a sex change operation, Renée Richards – King said of him/her that she was at first shunned by the tennis community, but won acceptance.)

I presumed too much about King and this event before sitting down here. King really was a ground breaker, and I admire her and hope the Battle of the Sexes, on her end, was legitimate.

By the way, she was born Billie Jean Moffitt, but at age 19 married Larry King, not that one, but a tennis player by that name. She kept the name King, and said in the interview said that she did not realize she was a lesbian until her mid-twenties. Given the era, I find that credible.

Her brother, Randy Moffitt, was a Major League Baseball player for various teams, 1972-1983, ending up with a 3.65 ERA. That’s impressive. The Moffitt family, mother, father, son and daughter, were all accomplished athletes.

10 thoughts on “King vs. Riggs, 1973: The Battle of the Sexes

  1. Timely post, as I was telling my family about this event a few weeks back. I watched it live with parents, siblings and friends. A certain ex-Taosian pointed out it was another shot in the “men are pigs” gambit, to which I concur as I recall my mother and her friends reveling in calling Bobby “Eleanor” Riggs(by) a “male chauvinist pig”. I pointed out how those TV extravaganzas were common at the time, a sort of mass initiation a few times a year. Nowadays, folks get their own personal algorithms for individualized mass initiation, so it’s identity-friendly. Nice.

    Hard to imagine someone betting on that, too.

    I especially appreciate the nuance you put in the paragraph about feminism not being “organic”. One thing many overlook is how authentic “good” is mixed in with authentic “bad” in these “mass” movements. Perhaps why so few think to question this mixture, since doing so is thoughtcrime.

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  2. I was 15 when pulled into the vortex by the hype this event generated. I recall Cosell bellowing about the other networks running big movies (one was the TV debut of Bonnie and Clyde) and that you could always go to the movies but you’ll never see anything like this!

    Riggs was playing a character that was around at the time: the chauvinist fossil that in retrospect we can see as a deliberate provocateur to indeed gain the public’s sympathy for the women’s movement.

    There was a gynecologist that would show up on Carson now and then and denigrate women. He sounded amusing in the context. Cringe humor was decades away. He was a gray haired curmudgeon and was there to be laughed at and he probably knew it.

    Today, ALL commercials feature mixed race couples and, with the latest Expedia travel commercials, pretty blatant lesbianism. As the jingle in the Virginia Slims cigarette commercials proclaimed back then: You’ve come a long way, baby!

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  3. I was 11 years old and didn’t know lesbian from thespian, but I still got all riled up about this “event.” Ah, the power of (TV) programming! I’ve always preferred women’s tennis because more volleying and strategy are involved instead of endless aces. Recently I’ve come to believe that the Chris Evert/Martina Navratilova rivalry was cooked up. Straight vs. Gay, American vs. Communist, Fem vs. Butch. I’m sure that Navratilova could have crushed Evert any day of the week.

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      1. Yuk. That kind of stupid is everywhere. She did not talk vax in the Maron interview, but Maron is a moron too in that regard. These people are public figures, and will be taken down if they speak up or or out in any way, but honestly, I don’t see any urge in them to do that. They are either bought in and stupid, or liars. I do not see any middle ground with them.

        When the world is sane again (ahr ahr, as if) I am going to make it illegal to use the word “expert” to describe anyone except hookers and pimps, who at least know their trade. That word just grates on me, but kids are taught in school never to think for themselves, always to seek out “expert” opinion. Drives me batty. Last year in Montana I wanted to buy a bottle of wine in a store, and the asshole clerk would not sell it to me unless I put on a mask. I don’t know what I said, something like “what virus?” or to that effect, that it’s all a hoax. He said “I trust the scientists.” And I thought there it is, in a nutshell. People do not know how to think, have no guile, no skepticism. They are born to be cattle and sheep.

        The country is over, you know. There wasn’t much of it left anyway, and it was never as ga ga great as we were taught in history books, but there was some inkling to resist maybe in the postwar era. In warfare the object is to get the enemy to expose himself in some way, as with the Turkey Shoot in Iraq. With Vietnam they allowed, even encouraged an antiwar movement, with psyops like Jane Fonda, Bobby Kennedy and McGovern, and Napalm girl, the little girl running naked, supposedly a victim … that was the deal, to get people organized and exposed so they could take them down, which they did with Manson. Things quieted down, people put their heads down and looked at their shoes, sheep. It’s been disgraceful ever since, every little stupid psyop working, people accepting them at face value, no one questioning anything, hardly one in a hundred having a functioning brain. With the vaccine people don’t have an effing clue what or why they are taking, no idea that there is no effing virus, just swallowing whole on everything. I’m sick and tired of all of them.

        Montana passed a law (signed by the governor) that no one can be forced to vaccinate as a condition of employment. The only state to do so. Let’s see how they get that undone.

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            1. MT and CY, you rant with the best of ’em; and you’re both funny…let’s have a rant-off!

              the “hookers and pimps” reminds me of HST, except used for good.

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        1. Undone when the infected start dropping everywhere soon. The no jab/no job fallout will kick in at the same time. And TPTB will be laying down some major false flags. This fall when the real cold & flu sets in. And least it is left out, the Afgan influx. Civil War II kicked off by declaring Marshal Law/nation wide lockdown/Passport ID/vax papers. Communism, not ‘nazi Germany. That nazi biz is always in heavy rotation in their media machine. Back to the OP topic: Riggs ‘rigged’ the game to pay off a debt to Italian mafioso? Sametime frame the GODFATHER was juiced (Billy as well? I mean PEDs) . As With only 3 channels back then. Worse? Battle of the Network Stars.

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