Why The “Battle of the Sexes” Was About More Than Tennis

battle of the sexes billie jean king bobby riggs

Women have been fighting for equal rights and equal pay for decades. Many believe one of the first instances of social change in women’s sports was the tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King in 1973.

Riggs challenged King to a match with a $100,000 prize, the “Battle of the Sexes” match became a huge exhibition that popularized tennis and even sparked a film 44 years later.

Riggs was a proactive showman who believed women belonged in either the bedroom or the kitchen. He had won men’s singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles at Wimbledon in 1939 as well as several U.S. championships throughout the years.

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King was the number one female in the world and was advocating to get equal prize money for women on the tennis circuit. When King had won the U.S. Open in 1972, she took home $10,000 in prize money while the men’s singles winner took home $25,000.

On September 20, 1973, the two met in the Houston Astrodome in front of 30,000 fans and 50 million television viewers. King went on to beat Riggs in what is known as the “Battle of the Sexes” 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

“More About Social Change Than Tennis”

Title IX had just been passed the year before and King stated in an interview that she knew the match was more about social change than tennis. King also stated she was afraid to lose to Riggs, because it might set the movement of gender equality back 50 years.

After the win, King received endorsements from Adidas, Wilson tennis rackets, Colgate toothpaste and Sunbeam hair curlers, making her the one of the first female athlete superstars.

The new movie, “Battle of the Sexes” stars Emma Stone as King and Steve Carell as Riggs, helping a new generation learn about a pivotal moment in the fight for gender equality. This film will take viewers behind the scenes and give them an insight into one of the most talked about tennis matches of all time.

The fight for gender equality is still ongoing. This is true especially in the sports industry where men have dominated professional and amateur leagues as well as the media and coaching positions.

For instance, 40 percent of all sports participants are female but they only receive four percent of the media coverage. This is also true at the college level. At a typical Division I school, two and a half dollars are spent on men’s sports for every dollar spent on women’s sports.how to prepare for your sports job search ebook

However, women are continuing to push the boundaries in the sports industry.

Girls participation in high school sports has increased for the last 25 consecutive years. Bigger audiences are also being drawn to women’s sports. In fact, women’s collegiate softball often draws bigger audiences than men’s baseball. The women’s College World Series averaged 44,000 more viewers than the men’s College World Series.

The Almighty Dollar

Although the money for women’s sports is lacking, the money females spend on sporting apparel is just as valued as men.

Several retailers, including Dick’s Sporting Goods and Under Armour, recently launched their first advertising campaigns dedicated solely to women, even featuring elite female athletes. Nike’s women apparel grew nearly 30 percent in just over a year and their women’s sales growth is outpacing the men’s, equating to about $5 billion in revenue.

While women still battle for gender equality and equal pay, the feature film “Battle of the Sexes” may help instill confidence in female athletes everywhere and create more conversation around these important social issues.

Why The “Battle of the Sexes” Was About More Than Tennis
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Why The “Battle of the Sexes” Was About More Than Tennis
The battle of the Sexes was an instrumental moment in social change that is playing out right now, 44 years later
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  1. steve Panayiotou says

    what will the “gender” issues do to title IX? If students can choose their gender, I can’t but think this is going to hurt all the work for title IX will erode. Biological males transitioning to female (or gender neutral ) playing against biological females, there is going to be crazy issues to solve. Your thoughts?

    • I think you are talking about extreme edge cases, I don’t think it will affect title IX and I’m pretty sure rules are being discussed and enacted so it won’t be the chaotic scenario you present. – Brian

  2. Karri Calhoun says

    ESPN Nine for IX: Branded is a documentary focusing on women in sports and their need to provide sex appeal in order to be successful in the sport industry. . The film interviews female athletes such as Chris Evert, Mary Lou Retton, Lisa Leslie, and Gabrielle Reece on their take of being sexualized in the sport industry. The documentary begins with talking about this match. Paula Madison, CEO of WNBA’s Sparks, mentioned that in 2012 in the WNBA finals women were making approximately $427,750 per game while in the same year of the NBA finals men made $16,855,000. Female athlete stars such as Danika Patrick and Anna Kournikova sold their athleticism by using sex appeal. These women knew what it took to make the most money in their industry and they went for it. With the time and money that women are putting into sports, we should now be able to get more out of it without using sex appeal to get it.