The final and fourth major Grand Slam tennis event of the year, the 141st edition of the 2021 US Open, is being played this week and next week at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, New York.
This two-part diary looks at one major tennis match in the consequential life of former tennis great Billie Jean King. In doing so, it examines the issue of pay inequity — the root cause for the formation of the Virginia Slims Tennis Tour and one which allowed tobacco giant Philip Morris to play a major role in sponsoring and promoting women’s professional tennis. This defining event happened at a time when sexism and racism were quite pervasive in American society. Simply stated, a great deal was at stake when Billie Jean King took on Bobby Riggs in September 1973 at the Houston Astrodome. I hope that including several videos and editorial cartoons will give readers a sense of what life was really like in the 1970s and the many daily obstacles that confronted American women in their lives. The title of the diary comes from an appearance (go to 6:30 of the video) that Bobby Riggs made on “The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson” on August 9, 1973.
I first wrote a much shorter version of this diary almost a decade ago. I have not only reformatted the diary but also added a whole lot of new images and content. In addition to improvements across the board, the diary also includes tributes to tennis greats Alice Marble and Althea Gibson, an examination of the controversial sponsorship role played by Phillip Morris, and the crucial contributions made by Peanuts creator, Charles Schulz, to highlight the struggle to help keep Title IX alive and expand opportunities for women in sports. Almost forty-eight years later after this match took place, and with the election of Vice President Kamala Harris in November 2020 — a historic first in the United States — I thought it might be appropriate to bring back this diary, improve upon it, expand it, and share it with new Daily Kos members who have joined this blog since early 2012.
“Their Lasting Legacy Represents Solidarity, Support, and Sisterhood.”
In the July 1, 1950 issue of the American Lawn Tennis magazine, Four-time national champion Alice Marble penned an editorial that rocked the tennis world. She advocated for African-American competitor Althea Gibson to be allowed to compete in the US Open Tennis Championships. In it, she all but accused the United States Tennis Association of institutional racism and colluding to disallow players from competing because of the color of their skin.
Marble also demanded that the tennis world do some serious introspection. As a former #1 player in the world, she had enough sway and influence to change some minds. In 1939, Marble had won the triple crown at the Wimbledon Championships. Her mixed doubles partner was none other than Bobby Riggs, who had successfully bet on himself to achieve the same feat. It is widely believed that Marble was also a spy for the Allies in Europe during World War II, carrying out missions for US Army Intelligence.
A few weeks after Marble’s scathing editorial, Gibson became the first black woman in August 1950 to compete in the US Open. By the mid-1950s, she had become the best female tennis player in the world.
Who was Billie Jean King’s inspiration growing up as a California teenager in the 1950s? None other than the aforementioned Althea Gibson, who King saw for the first time in 1957 at the Los Angeles Tennis Club. At the time, Gibson was ranked #1 in the world and the reigning Wimbledon and U.S. National women’s singles champion.
Long before other great tennis players of color would make their mark in professional tennis in recent decades and dazzle us with their brilliance on the tennis courts, there was Gibson from Harlem, New York City as a shining example of athleticism, grace, talent, and hard work.
She certainly deserves to be remembered this week.
Althea Gibson — opening the door for Arthur Ashe, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Zina Garrison, Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys, Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff, and many others.
Generations of tennis players have been inspired by the examples set by Althea Gibson, Arthur Ashe, Billie Jean King, and many more who challenged the sport to remove barriers to fairness and justice by epitomizing the values of diversity, inclusion, and respect
— 2021 US Tennis Open
The sociological and historical significance of August 25, 1950 was enormous for African-Americans in their pursuit of breaking down color lines and paving the way for equal opportunities as Althea Gibson became the first African-American to compete at the U.S. National Championships. Gibson’s inclusion in America’s biggest tennis event wasn’t just about gaining acceptance in the sporting world, but seen as a momentum builder for blacks in the game of life. What Jackie Robinson did for baseball by being in the Brooklyn Dodgers’s starting lineup at first base on April 15, 1947, Althea Gibson did for tennis when she made her historic debut, defeating Barbara Knapp, 6-2, 6-2, in the first round.
Althea Gibson had a jam-packed eight-year career, with all of her major championships coming from 1956 to 1958, when she appeared in a stunning 19 major finals and won 11 titles. Five were in singles: the French in 1956, Wimbledon in 1957 and 1958, and the U.S. Nationals in 1957 and 1958; five in women’s doubles: the French 1956, the Australian in 1957, Wimbledon in 1956, 1957, 1958 and one in mixed doubles, at the U.S. in 1957. After that remarkable run of accomplishment, Gibson became the first African-American to compete on the women’s professional golf tour in 1960.
Until Evonne Goolagong, who was from an Australian Aboriginal family, won the French Open and Wimbledon Ladies Singles Championship in 1971, Gibson held the distinction of being the only woman of color to win a major championship for 15 years. It took 43 years, when Serena Williams won the 1999 US Open, for another African-American female to win a major singles title.
“The Great Hurdle Women Were Trying to Overcome in the 1970s Was Ridicule.”
Until the 1970s, women's tennis had never been taken seriously by the men in charge of organizing this most genteel of sports. The modern, Open Era in tennis had become a reality in 1968, and the separation of amateur and professional players ceased to be. With televised competition popularizing its appeal, all players were finally afforded the opportunity to make a living in the sport they loved. Even as the distinction between amateur and professional tennis players disappeared, there existed a huge disparity in the amount of prize money available to male and female players.
One woman bravely sought to change this gross inequity. She was more than just a great tennis player from Long Beach, California who had risen to the top of women's tennis in the 1960s. Winning all the major titles in her sport and becoming one of the best players ever was only a means to a larger end.
In a single, highly-publicized event that took place almost five decades ago, she struck an important blow for equality in women's sports. In doing so, she forced men to not only appreciate women in sports and reexamine their chauvinistic attitudes but, also, sought recognition for all the other contributions women had been making to society for centuries.
It was billed as "The Battle of the Sexes." Almost 48 million people would watch this tennis match on television. Why was this more than just a tennis match? New York Times columnist Gail Collins wrote the below column to debunk a conspiracy theory four decades after this historic match and one that strongly suggested that the match had been fixed by crime bosses.
If this were any other sports victory, we could just shrug and move on. But the Billie Jean King-Bobby Riggs match was a central story in the history of the American women’s movement. The great hurdle women were trying to overcome in the 1970s was ridicule, and Riggs, who had built himself a new career as a self-styled chauvinist pig, was all about the sneer.
When he said that “a woman’s place is in the bedroom and the kitchen, in that order,” you did not see a frightened man defending his threatened prerogatives. You saw a guy laughing at the whole business of girls trying to pretend to be good at sports. Or business. Or the military. Or whatever.
When King entered the stadium on a litter, carried by several underdressed young men and waving to the crowd, she was announcing that she understood exactly what this particular game was all about and that she wasn’t cowed by Riggs’s posturing and clowning. She won before she started. And then she actually won. It was a message for any woman who had ever worried about being laughed at if she stepped out of line. So a claim that this story was actually just an elaborate scenario, played out to pay off one of Bobby Riggs’s gambling debts, is not something you want to ignore.
The above painting shows lawn tennis being played in 1887 when the first official U.S. Women's National Singles Championship was held at the Philadelphia Cricket Club. Source: Library of Congress. Gail Collins, "Rebattling the Battle of the Sexes," New York Times, August 28, 2013. Collins wrote this column to take apart the bizarre claim made decades after the King-Riggs match that the whole thing was fixed and concocted by the Mafia to help pay Riggs’ gambling debts. You can also read or listen to this NPR Report, Was 1973 'Battle Of The Sexes' Tennis Match Thrown? Billie Jean King did not believe that Riggs threw the match. Many people close to Bobby Riggs believed the whole story was “ridiculous.” Ann Telnaes Comic Credit : Library of Congress. Six Chix is a comic strip produced collaboratively by Telnaes and five other female cartoonists. The strip highlights issues faced by women on an everyday basis.
Big Tobacco and the Controversy Over Women’s Professional Tennis Sponsorship: “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby.”
Leading the charge to make this a reality were two determined women — Gladys Heldman, the founder of World Tennis magazine, and tennis great Billie Jean King. At the time, male tennis players made eight times as much as female players in prize money. Parity with their male counterparts would take time but that day did finally arrive.
At the height of the women’s liberation movement, the Virginia Slims slogan “You’ve come a long way, baby” would become one of the most successful in American advertising history. The connection between sports and cigarette manufacturers goes back many decades prior to the 1970s.
Despite early evidence of the deleterious effects of cigarette smoking such as those detailed in the article featured in this 1925 edition of Physical Culture smoking was still widely adopted and even advertised as a relaxing counterpart to the rigors of physical activity and sports…
In the post-World War II era, the baby boom generation came of age in the early 1960s, and with this generation came calls for the recognition of civil rights, including the rights of women. This second-wave feminism was seized on by advertisers who portrayed women as vivacious, stylish, and alluring who could have it all. Enter Virginia Slims, Philip Morris’ cigarette targetted at modern women. While Marlboro had begun as a women’s cigarette, it had been rebranded for men with the iconic Marlboro Man; and Philip Morris cigarettes was the brand many baby boomer’s mothers may have smoked.
Virginia Slims billed itself as “The Cigarette That’s Her’s Alone.”
“Tennis, Tobacco, and Virginia Slims,” The Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society, The University of Alabama. By 1978, model Cheryl Tiegs was a spokesperson for Virginia Slims and “seizing on the fitness craze and the associated glamour of health and vitality, Virginia Slims marketed itself as the picture of health, and it was only natural that a vigorous sport ideal for health-conscious young women would be a ready-made sponsorship opportunity.”
Given the tour’s sponsor, the introduction of the 1971 World Tennis Women’s Pro Tour was not without controversy as cigarette smoking was (very) gradually being recognized in society as a habit harmful to one’s health. That said, attitudes towards smoking were a lot different over 50 years ago. Smoking was not as yet considered antisocial and office buildings and other indoor public or private places did not prohibit it. One could also smoke freely on airplanes, trains, buses, and other modes of public transportation.
Judging decisions made at the time by today’s standards and sensibilities is, to put it mildly, condemning the participants without a sense of context and history. Read Billie Jean’s detailed answers to this very question in an article from only a few weeks ago — "Inside the women’s tennis revolution with Billie Jean King." In the early 1970s, she thought the Virginia Slims folks were exceptionally helpful in promoting women’s tennis when others would not challenge the status quo.
For both sides, it was a marriage of convenience.
In retrospect, the cigarette company was probably not the best sponsor of an athletic tournament. But it was the only advertising money they could get.
Billie Jean King was just as unapologetic about accepting the support of cigarette manufacturers as she was about Virginia Slims’ role in bankrolling women’s professional tennis…
[I]t should be noted that Ms. (magazine) accepted advertising for cigarette and alcohol throughout the decade of the 1970s, seeing
this as a matter of individual choice as well as a business necessity. Where they drew the line was was when the editors considered the advertising sexist and demeaning to women, such as the “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby” campaign of Virginia Slims. They sugested a different slogan, “You’ll go a long way.” That decision cost them dearly [in terms of ad revenues].
Eliana Dockterman, “The True Story Behind the Battle of the Sexes Movie,” TIME, September 22, 2017. Susan Ware, Game, Set, Match: Billie Jean King and the Revolution in Women's Sports, pp 85-86, 2011.
The fact remains that Philip Morris came forward — when other companies refused to do so — to help establish the tour, an event that had far-reaching consequences. A non-smoker herself, King defended this association with Big Tobacco by stating that each individual had the right to support specific advertisers. In this particular instance, it is fair to say that for King, the ends justified the means. She and her fellow tennis rebels were going to use “whatever means necessary” to highlight their cause.
In the early 1970s — and contrary to what one might think today — the connection between issues affecting women’s sports and feminism was also, at best, tenuous. Many feminists saw male sports as full of violence and did not want women to emulate men and follow in their footsteps.
Billie and Donna fought their crusade with minimal support. There were no marchers or protesters to cheer them on. Initially, many women did not consider the debate over Title IX an important feminist issue. To this day, it amuses many Title IX advocates when opponents complain that feminists hijacked the legislation during the 1970s. It just wasn’t so.
”The women’s movement never embraced Title IX as an athletics position,” Donna Lopiano says… This indifference on the part of feminists marganalized the cause, making it imperative for women like King, de Varona, and Lopiano to rattle Capitol Hill. Other female athletes understood the importance of Title IX. However, they were reluctant to ask for equality on college campuses, particularly in the face of opposition from college presidents, NCAA chiefs, and athletic directors.
Selena Roberts, A Necessary Spectacle: Billie Jean King, Bobby Riggs, and the Tennis Match That Leveled the Game, “Towering Threat,” 2005, p. 159. In 1975, at the age of twenty-nine, Donna Lopiano became first the women’s athletic director at the University of Texas at Austin. In the mid-1960s, Donna de Varona became famous as a television sports broadcaster in a male-dominated field and also as an activist for women’s sports. In the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, she won two gold medals in swimming and that year, both the AP and UPI voted her as "most outstanding woman athlete in the world.” She later helped Billie Jean King to establish the Women's Sports Foundation in 1974.
One of the results of this tour was that Billie Jean King became the first female athlete to earn over $100,000 in a single calendar year.
Stories of the Open Era: Creation of Virginia Slims Tour, World Tennis. Read more about the Original 9 in "Inside the women’s tennis revolution with Billie Jean King" and how 50 years later, the group ended up in in the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
After the success of the Original 9’s revolutionary stand on September 23, 1970, things moved quickly for the new troupe of women’s tennis professionals as they strove to break free of the shackles imposed by the sport’s establishment… “We knew that to really have a future, we had to have a tour or a series of tournaments,” recalls Billie Jean King, chief powerbroker among the players. “It was getting so there was no place for the women to play anymore. The male players really didn’t want us to play, because we took some of the prize money if we did. And men were also in control of the tournaments, as promoters.”...
In 1971, new regulations came into effect in the United States banning the advertising of cigarettes on television and radio; tobacco companies needed other avenues for promotion, and sports sponsorship remained open to them… King admits the connection made some uneasy, at least initially, but pays tribute to the “brilliant” personnel who came with the Philip Morris machine: “They showed us total integrity at the time and became lifelong friends.”
Indeed, the touring pros, who frequently pooled together to drive from city to city, were also subjects of fascination for their local hosts. Julie Heldman recalls: “We would stay in people’s homes to save money and the women would approach us and say, ‘My marriage is falling apart, I can see that you are new women… can we talk about it?’ Everything was changing mightily at this time – it was the tail end of the 60s, and we were looked to as harbingers of a new world.”
Despite the off-court demands on her time and energy, King reigned supreme, becoming the first female athlete to earn $100,000 in a single year. It was an important milestone in the context of the burgeoning women’s movement, and US President Richard Nixon even called King to offer his congratulations. “We were very fortunate culturally with the timing, and I think we probably created some of it,” she notes. Link
Just as the feminist movement was gaining in strength and popularity, the Phillip Morris Company teamed up with the famed Leo Burnett Agency to capitalize on shifting attitudes. The campaign was for their new brand of ultra-smooth Virginia Slims cigarettes. It specifically and unabashedly targeted women, which was itself a new phenomenon. Every ad in the campaign put a woman front and center, equating smoking Virginia Slims with being independent, stylish, confident and liberated.
The slogan itself spoke directly about the progress women all over America were fighting for: “You’ve come a long way, baby.” Women have indeed come a long way since the ads first crashed onto the scene, evolving past the surface traits of 1960s-era independence. “You’ve come a long way, baby” remains one of the most famous advertising campaign lines in U.S. history. Link
“Virginia Slims stepped forward for women’s tennis when no one else would,” King says. “They helped us advance the sport and awareness about tennis. It’s so easy now to blame people. Look, I know about the dangers of smoking. I understand that and I don’t smoke. I’m overweight myself. I eat too much and I eat some of the wrong things. It’s my own fault. You have to take responsibility for yourself and that’s a problem now. Nobody wants to take responsibility.
“Philip Morris is one of the best corporations I’ve been associated with. They’re starting a campaign now to help keep kids from smoking.” Link
Adam Lincoln, “50 Years Ago Today: Virginia Slims Circuit Kicks Off,” WTA Tour, January 6, 2021. “Virginia Slims Cashes in on Women’s Lib, Declaring: ‘You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby,’” American Association of Advertising Agencies (1968). Diane Puncin, “Billie Jean Is Blowing Smoke at Her Responsibility to Youth,” October 22, 1999, Los Angeles Times. Billie Jean King would serve on Philip Morris’s Board of Directors for almost five years from 1999-2003 and was assigned to the board's committee for "Public Affairs and Social Responsibility." You can read more about this issue in this article. In 2021, the original Nine were inducted as a group into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island. Virginia Slims Poster Credit: Pinterest. Photographs Credit: Vintage Everyday.
In the early 1970s, women’s professional sports was not the only field afflicted by a serious case of sexism, inequity, and misogyny. It was commonplace, widespread, and rampant in society, designed to keep women “in their place.” Not only was financial discrimination embedded in this system, but it was taken for granted that there was nothing abnormal about such inequities.
What exactly was Title IX legislation? What was it supposed to achieve? Did it also apply to sports? At the time, how did women fare in sports at the collegiate level? And why was Title IX seen as a threat to ending male dominance in college sports, particularly by football coaches?
Once proponents decided to explore whether the provisions of Title IX also applied to extracurricular activities like football, only in due time would the answers become clearer to these questions.
In 1972, President Richard Nixon had signed the Education Amendments Act. The bill contained a nebulous piece of legislation called Title IX. In noble but undefined wording, Title IX stated that no person could be excluded on the basis of gender from participating in any education program or activility receiving federal dollars. Bravo, activists cried. But did anyone know what those words meant? At first blush, Title IX was a piece of feel-good legislation designed to open graduate school door to women who wanted careers outside of nursing and teaching…
In the summer of 1974, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare under (Secretary) Caspar Weinberger proposed regulations that would end sex discrimination and require institutions to offer women athletic programs that were comparable to men’s programs. Comparable. As in funding. As in taking from Peter to pay Paulette. As in the end of the world. At least that’s what Texas football coach Darrell Royal thought. “Title IX will bring an end to major-college football,” Royal declared.
A group of chest-puffing college football lords decided to fight as soon as they discovered that the womenfolk — among others — were trying to crash the barriers protecting their exclusively male domain. Republican Senator John Tower of Texas became their political leader. A preacher’s son with an affinity for British cigarettes and local speakeasie, Tower was the ten-gallon politician of Lone Star State lore, a man who worshipped God, but would dance with the devil for the sake of Longhorn football. The senator would vote heaven out of El Paso if it meant stopping Title IX.
Roberts, pp 156-57. College footbal proponents saw this struggle as a zero-sum game, i.e., their loss would inevitably results in someone else’s gain. Their political backers vowed never to let that happen.
Male chauvinistic behavior was not just limited to football and collegiate sports. For example, in the field of comics, several female cartoonists got fed up with established societal norms in that bastion of liberalism and tolerance, the San Francisco Bay area.
Billie Jean Moffitt came from a working-class, conservative Methodist family in Southern California. Her father was a fireman, her mother a homemaker. As a young teenager, she had shown great promise as a shortstop in softball but her parents wanted her to pursue "ladylike" activities. In discovering tennis on public courts, she found her passion. By age 17, she had won the first of her 39 career grand slam titles in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles. Pairing with Karen Hentze, King won the women's doubles title at the 1961 Wimbledon Championships.
When King graduated from high school, her parents did not have the financial resources to send her to either Stanford University or the University of Southern California. After attending California State University in Los Angeles (while working to support herself) and marriage, she was making enough money on the tennis circuit to financially support her husband (Larry King) through law school — even as creditors would only send credit card applications to them in her unemployed, student husband's name! Regardless of the facts, in those days a woman's worth was seen through the eyes of her husband.
Just like Billie Jean King, Bobby Riggs also grew up in Los Angeles, California. As one of the top junior tennis players in the country, he honed his game by competing against other tennis greats like Donald Budge (another product of public tennis courts in California) and Jack Kramer. At a decided disadvantage against stronger players due to his smaller physical stature, he used his brains and wily court tactics to outwit his opponents. At the age of 21, he won the men's singles title at Wimbledon (the first of 6 grand slam titles) and was the number one ranked player in the world for three years in the 1940s — a period which also included his service in the military during World War II.
Riggs was a natural hustler and gambler who turned professional after the war. He had bet on himself to win the singles title, as well as the men’s doubles, and mixed doubles titles. He won over $100,000 in 1939 (worth almost $2 million today) at Wimbledon, where betting is legal. After a failed marriage and other attempts to make a living, it was as if he had found his calling. In this "60 Minutes" interview he gave to CBS reporter Mike Wallace in 1973, you can watch how Riggs made money in Las Vegas, Nevada, and prepared for this historic match by taking unusually large doses of vitamins, sometimes taking over 400 hundred a day!
By 1973, big money was entering the world of professional tennis. Riggs came up with a plan to get a piece of the action. He first challenged Billie Jean King, boasting that even a retired male tennis player with declining skills could beat the best female players. She declined to take up the challenge. Riggs next approached Australian Margaret Smith Court who was then the top-ranked player in the world. The apolitical Court had not been particularly thrilled with the growing feminist movement (she would later become a conservative Pentecostal pastor) and approached this as just another exhibition match. King stressed to her that it was imperative that she defeat Riggs.
On Mother's Day in May 1973, Riggs easily beat an unprepared Court 6-2, 6-1 in a $10,000 challenge match played in the not-quite-finished San Diego Country Estates about forty miles northeast of San Diego, CA. The victory landed him on the cover of both Sports Illustrated and TIME magazine. If Riggs could beat the best player in the world, surely, he thought, he could defeat others like King.
Watch the highlights of this match, which came to be known as the “Mother's Day Massacre.”
King was on a flight from Tokyo to Los Angeles while the Riggs-Court tennis match was being played.
Billie Jean King had nearly missed the match entirely. After stepping off a plane on a layover between Tokyo and L.A., Billie, her secretary Marilyn Bennett, and fellow tennis star Rosie Casals raced through the terminal frantically looking for one of those coin-operated TV sets attached to the chairs in the waiting areas.
At last they found a vacant one. The women pumped quarters into the slot and flipped through the channels of the black-and-white tube. Nothing but Gunsmoke reruns. Finally they heard the results on Rosie’s radio. In just fifty-seven minutes, Bobby had dismantled Margaret’s bally-hooed power to hand her a humbling 6-1, 6-2 defeat. Billie was besides herself. She knew Margaret’s loss would not only be be used to undermine the fight for equal pay on the tour, it would also provide an easy caricature for political cartoonists. She marched through the terminal incensed and motivated. “That’s it,” she thought. “I’ve got to play him.” Billie phoned her husband and told him, “Larry, now we’ve got something to prove.”
Still not sure what had just happened to her, a bewildered Margaret accepted Bobby’s hug. She looked on as John Wayne, the ultimate man’s man, swaggered forward and handed Bobby checks totaling $10,000. Riggs would receive a few grand more from CBS, and who knew how much in bets he had made on himself. Margaret left with her TV guarantee of $10,000, and her pride in tatters.
Roberts, pp 23-24. The video footage of this match was believed to have been lost and not found until 2014. It features interviews with several of the Hollywood and tennis elite who came out in large numbers to watch the match. King was fully aware that Court was not a huge supporter of the women’s movement but she certainly did not expect her to lose this badly to Riggs. Years later, Court would become a Christian minister and strident opponent of LGBT rights. You can read more about her controversial religious beliefs here and here. That said, it doesn’t diminish her record of 24 singles Grand Slam singles titles, the most-ever won by any female tennis player. Serena Williams is second with 23 singles titles in major championships, followed by Steffi Graf with 22 titles.
King knew that she could no longer avoid Riggs' goading. Importantly, at the time, she was also involved in a struggle to seek higher prize money for female tennis players.
If Riggs’s hustle had been a success before, it was a media sensation after Court’s humiliation. Time put him on the cover. The pressure grew for King, who Riggs crowed was his next target. ("She’s the Women’s Libber Leader.") And King knew she had to take him on. The rest of the country — even the other women in the circuit — was beginning to think he might be right, that women were so inferior to male players that women’s tennis was not a serious sport…
She and the other women on the tennis tour made less - ridiculously less - than the men. In 1970, King rebelled when she discovered that the Pacific Southwest Open was going to award the male winner $12,500 and the female winner $1,500. When the promoter refused to narrow the gap, King and eight of other top women players organized a boycott. They went instead to Houston, where Philip Morris offered to sponsor a tournament just for them. It would be the beginning of the Virginia Slims Tennis Tour.
Women’s tennis began to catch on. (Its sponsor promoted its brand with a jingle that announced: "You’ve come a long way baby, to get where you’ve got to today. You’ve got your own cigarette now, baby. You’ve come a long, long way!") Some of the male players — particularly the less than stellar men on the tour — were outraged at the idea that the top women were getting both more money and attention than they were. Nobody was more vocal than Bobby Riggs, who loudly announced that women’s tennis "stinks" and that the women themselves "belong in the bedroom and kitchen, in that order."
Larry Schwartz, "Billie Jean Won for All Women" - ESPN. Photograph credit: World Biographical Encyclopedia, Inc. Bobby Riggs Cover credit: TIME magazine. Peanuts Cartoon Credit: Go Comics. Gail Collins, "The Battle of the Sexes," History Now.
A Note About the Diary Poll
Most people excel in at least one thing in life. For some, it could be writing books, playing a musical instrument, composing songs, or perhaps even solving crossword puzzles. For others, it is engaging in a sport or activity which finds them in their element and fully comfortable doing so.
In my case, I've long had a love affair with racquet sports for I first started playing them at age seven. Put a racquet - any kind of racquet - in my hand and it feels as natural as any good politician in front of a microphone. Tennis is only one of several racquet sports that I learned at a very young age and over the years, have had the good fortune of playing a few of these at a competitive level both nationally and regionally. Obviously, this intense interest also sparked my curiosity about the history of these sports.
The mentality that existed when Billie Jean King first challenged the national tennis hierarchy for equal pay is something that I have experienced firsthand in several fairly exclusive clubs both here in Washington, D.C., and around the country — although my competitive playing days have been over for several years. I could tell you dozens of stories but suffice it to say, it is an environment where, even to this day, you will find many 1%ers like Mitt Romney — perfectly pleasant, rather privileged, incurious men who are totally at ease practicing a phony kind of civility one often sees in business circles. Rarely if ever, are such men forced to examine their core beliefs. Why would they? The system works for them and in their isolated world, that's all that counts. Proles are, after all, more a nuisance to be tolerated or exploited and in their way of thinking, of limited use to society.
Are you a tennis fan? And, how closely do you follow the major tennis championships? Don't forget to take the diary poll. Vote for your favorite player, not who you think is the greatest player ever. The poll includes most — but not all — of the post-World War II great female tennis players to ever play the game.