A film recently came out starring Steve Carell and Emma Stone titled Battle of the Sexes. It’s a dramatization of a famous tennis match in 1973 between men’s tennis player Bobby Riggs and women’s tennis player Billie Jean King. Spoiler alert: King won the match, and that victory was a sizable step for women’s tennis on the “taken-seriously”-o-meter.
If you’re wondering why I’m bringing this up, it’s because, after rummaging in my basement for one of my old comic books, I stumbled upon an interesting piece of paraphernalia: an official Bobby Riggs tennis racket from the 1940s, in relatively good condition.
Apparently, my grandmother used this racket in her teenage years playing tennis. She passed it on to my father, who’s not much of a tennis player but held onto the racket for its collector value. You don’t get a lot of sports paraphernalia these days with a dude’s picture on it.
My father recalls watching the “Battle of the Sexes” on TV in ’73. He didn’t have any personal stake in it, but it was one of the biggest television events of the decade, and everyone who was anyone was tuning in. In my father’s own words, Bobby Riggs was a “showman” and a “character.” He was one of the greatest tennis players who ever lived in his heyday (hence the official tennis racket), but he was already retired in ’73, sparking the Battle of the Sexes more for his own entertainment than anything.
Riggs wanted to make a big spectacle of pitting a champion of women’s rights against a self-proclaimed “chauvinist,” whether or not he actually believed the things he was saying. For him, a master promoter by his own admission, he knew such an event would be a ratings bonanza (and he was right).
I’m not sure if I’ll see the movie in theaters, but perhaps I can cajole my father into watching it with me whenever it comes to pay-per-view.