This Day In History: Battle of the Sexes

On Sept. 20, 1973 Billie Jean King was the first female tennis player to ever beat a male tennis champion. This famous tennis match is referred to as the “Battle Of The Sexes,” a significant event not only in the sports world but globally for women’s rights.

King first encountered inequality at the age of 12. She was unable to play in a tennis tournament because she was wearing shorts rather than the ‘appropriate’ outfit that included a tennis skirt. But problems of gender inequality were much greater than the dress code.

In the ’60s and ‘70s in professional tennis arenas, men were paid more than females. When King won the US Open in 1972 she received $15,000 less than Ilie Nastase, the men’s champion.

King noticed that change needed to happen, and soon. 

 “Unless I was number 1,” she said, “I wouldn’t be listened to.”

Thanks to King and other female athletes, the women’s movement started gaining momentum. In 1972, Title IX, which specifically prohibits sexual discrimination within schools, was offically being passed. The gender equality ball was rolling.

King started with advocating for equal pay in the US open in 1973. A sponsor agreed to level the field so the pay would be gender equal among champions. That same year Bobby Riggs, the No. 1 male tennis champion at the time, made the statement that “women’s game” was “inferior to men’s.” He challenged King to a match and she agreed.

This Tennis match would go down in history for its significance for women. There were 90 million viewers tuned in, which is still the record for people watching any tennis match to date. King beat Riggs soundly in a set of 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. The prize money was $100,000 which was the most money won by a female at that point.

“I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn’t win that match,” said King. “It would ruin the women’s [tennis] tour and affect all women’s self-esteem. To beat a 55-year-old guy was no thrill for me. The thrill was exposing a lot of new people to tennis.”

Billie Jean King was also then the first president and co-founder of the Women’s Tennis Association, which is a large corporation today. 

According to Billie Jean King Enterprises, “Perhaps no other sporting event has played a more significant role in developing greater respect and recognition for women athletes than the Battle of the Sexes.”

On this day in history, Billie Jean King made her mark in the history of female empowerment.

Story By: Moriah Spainhower
Photo Courtesy of: Google