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‘Battle of the Sexes’ Then — and Now


‘Battle of the Sexes’ Then — and Now

Lynn Sherr

Midway through Bobby Riggs’ cocky telephone pitch to Billie Jean King in 1973 — a nationally televised tennis match with a $100,000 prize between her, the top-ranked female player, and himself, the fading superstar — Riggs brands the event. “Male chauvinist pig versus hairy-legged feminist,” he says, succinctly defining the cultural stakes. Although Riggs instantly walks back his hustle with a glib, “No offense,” it sets the terms. Yes, Riggs, 55, needs the money (and the renewed fame); and yes, playing against the eye-popping King, 29, will make for great tennis and must-see TV.


A very good article, Ms. Sherr, one which needs to be read and reflected upon. As one who remembers that 1973 moment well, I am greatly troubled by the recent re-invigoration of misogyny in our culture. It is not good for anyone, including men.


Just last night I listened to the replay of Terry Gross’s interview with King on “Fresh Air,” and I’d been trying to remember where I was that night. I was 20, but still living with my parents, a housewife and as big a chauvinist as Riggs tried to portray. I was a student at the startup state college around the corner. We did not follow tennis. I doubt we watched it. I’m afraid I probably bought into the dismissal of the match as a publicity stunt. I do recall thinking, in the runup, that Riggs was a buffoon, but I doubt that I dared to voice my opinion. I hadn’t yet found my voice.

That work started the next year, when I got married (Mother and Dad didn’t quite approve) and, between meeting and wedding, took myself off with a student group to the USSR for the whole summer. When I came back, I refocused my studies and became the first graduate of that state college to attend an Ivy League grad school, Princeton. That was my battle with the chauvinist. Years before, with hours to kill on the Princeton campus, I’d stood with Dad and my C-student younger brother before Nassau Hall (we’d taken Dad to a football game). They’d just begun co-education, and I was in the top 10% of my class. But what Dad said was "Just think, Charley, if you just apply yourself, you might get to come here.

And I never reminded Dad of that, never told him how much it hurt me. I did manage to break through to where I had Dad’s respect as a professional, to where I had to stand literally in the doorway between Dad’s chair and Mother’s kitchen and try to carry on two conversations at once. Even though I discovered, after 5 semesters, that I wasn’t the kind of sociologist they were making at Princeton, and even though I never reached the heights of publishing / writing career that Dad did. The difference was made when I lobbed back to Dad one of his dismissive comments, and he actually said “You’re right. I’ve never had to worry about how dinner gets on the table and how to balance that with being well informed.” And after Mother died, I got to teach him, open-mouthed, how to replace a button on his shirt. We both evolved, and I know Billie Jean King had something to do with it, but I probably still won’t go see the movie.


Thank you for sharing some of your life experience. Many of us in this forum came of age in those years between 1963-1974, and well remember what was very good, and what was very bad. We saw many of the very bad things get better. That is what so greatly disturbs us today, as we see our society going back in the wrong direction.

We likewise saw the benefits of a shared prosperity, thanks in part to very successful New Deal policies. Ever since Reagan years, we have now seen a steady erosion of the very things that created a strong middle class. We’ve certainly experienced the highs and the lows!


During the 1963-1974 timeframe the 99% made progress on social issues AND economic issues. Despite the setbacks mentioned, social issues have at least continued to make progress since then, while economic fortunes for the 99% flattened from 1974-1984, quickly falling into a downward spiral driven by Saint Ron’s revolution and the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) formation. 33 years of downward spiraling economic fortunes continues to push more middle class Murkins into the ranks of the poor.


As one who witnessed Ms. King play tennis back when she was Little Miss Moffit, I most definitely do not remember her as “eye popping” – certainly not in comparison to her compatriot Karen Hantze, among many others.  What I remember most about Billie Jean is that she used her notoriety as a Wimbledon champ­ion to cheat a younger player out of a critical point in a championship match by brow-beating an inex­perienced umpire into replaying a disputed point at 15-30 when the score should have been 15-40 – match point – in favor of her opponent.  A young Kathy Blake (best known these days as the mother of the doubles champs Bob & Mike Bryant) was so flustered by the several-minute delay caused by BJ’s ranting that she lost her concentration, the game, and eventually the match.


Classic example of holding one thing against everything else someone ever did or said. You don’t even say when this was.


Me? What I’ve read reveals a more liberated and spirited woman than we’ve seen, with some l’esprit de l’escalier revelations that remind me what we missed. I lament that Clinton did not go with her gut during that second presidential debate — when Donald Trump invaded her space and stalked her like a bad dream — and say what we all felt: “Back up, you creep. Get away from me.”

Ugh! Hillary is a national disgrace, and this author is validating her book of blame and delusions! How pitiful. I was one of the commenters all over the print MSM who predicted even before HRC threw her hat into the preordained primary, that she would lose against a Republican if she became the nominee, so please spare us the: if only she had done this or that, we would have fallen for her shtick…

Why has CD stooped to this level? Please? Anyone?


The Ladies’ Singles Final, Ojai, CA - late April, 1964.   I’ve heard other stories about BJ’s nastiness from some tennis insiders, but as this is the only one I witnessed it’s the only one I will comment on.  IMHO, BJ is to tennis what HRC is to politics.


How’d I get blamed for one aside you didn’t like?


Oops, my comment was meant as a reply to the author of the article, not to you…sorry about that…


Now I think you’ve replied to me instead of bkswrites – one good deed begets another!

Or, as the linesperson failed to enunciate clearly way back in '64, “OUT!!”