Battle of the Sexes: Billie Jean King rocked the world on Sept. 20, 1973

September 20th, 2013 | by Denise Goolsby | Comments
Billie Jean King

In this photo taken Sept. 5, 2013, Billie Jean King reflects about her match against Bobby Riggs in 1973 as she stands in front of a display during the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

For this sports fan, 1973 was a big year.

As a 12-year-old tomboy growing up in San Gabriel, Calif. (Claim to fame: San Gabriel Mission, birthplace of Gen. George S. Patton) I spent many enjoyable weekend afternoons watching ballgames.

Grandpa and I sometimes played catch in the front yard while listening to the game on a transistor radio.

Sometimes my Dad and I would take in a game at Dodger Stadium – what great memories!

The year started off with my beloved Miami Dolphins capping off a perfect season with a win in the Super Bowl over the Washington Redskins.

In the summer, the incomparable infield of Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey played together for the first time, beginning a long, successful relationship that continued into the 80s.

But the year’s biggest thrill occurred on Sept. 20, when tennis superstar Billie Jean King took on “Sugar Daddy” Bobby Riggs.

I sat on the avocado green, burnt orange and gold shag carpet that covered the den of my childhood home with my eyes glued on our TV (it looked more like a piece of furniture with a screen built into the middle) and hung on every serve, volley and slice as the duo banged the ball back and forth in the cavernous Houston Astrodome.

Even at that age, I instinctively knew how important this match was – not only for Billie Jean King, but for women everywhere. I watched, practically in horror, as Riggs took apart Margaret Court in the “Mother’s Day Massacre” in May of that year.

I knew this was a “must win.” These were tense times.

I couldn’t imagine the stress of playing in front of so many people with so much on the line, but if anyone could pull it off, I knew it would be my childhood hero.

After she beat Riggs, it felt like the weight of the world fell off my shoulders. Something special, something unprecedented in my short life had taken place and I had a front row (sort of) seat as I watched history unfold.

Title IX had become law just a year earlier, paving the way for equal opportunities for girls and women in sports.

In 1973, girls still weren’t allowed to play Little League baseball, and I used to watch from behind the fence during my friends’ brothers’ games, crying because I wanted so badly to go on the field, don the coveted wool baseball uniform, and experience the pure joy of playing a game I loved with all of my heart.

I was born a little too early to have the childhood of my dreams, playing organized ball on city sandlots, but I was just the right age to reap the benefits that came with of the dawning of a new era for girls in sports.

Looking back on that momentous day 40 years ago, I feel pride that I was there, right by the TV, cheering Billie Jean on with all my heart and soul, occupying an every-so-tiny-space in a historic turning point in my life.

BJK 1

This poster of Billie Jean King hung on the door of my bedroom during the 1970s.

 

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