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ITHF to screen Battle of the Sexes broadcast

NEWPORT, R.I. — It was 40 years ago that Billie Jean King glided into the Houston Astrodome on a gilded chariot, Cleopatra style. She was there to face off against Bobby Riggs, a former No. 1 tennis player who was convinced there was no way a female player, even one of the world’s best, could defeat a man on the tennis court. The packed stadium held more than 30,000 eager fans and millions more tuned in from home to see the dramatic “Battle of the Sexes” unfold. Celebrities sat in the crowd, Riggs arrived in a rickshaw led by models, and King presented him with a tiny piglet at the net, symbolic of a male chauvinistic pig. The event was undoubtedly a spectacle — sports entertainment at its best. While the event fanfare eventually faded, the match left a lasting, positive mark on the sports community and society at large. King handily defeated Riggs in straight sets (6-4, 6-3, 6-3), successfully earning respect and awareness for gender equality in the United States, and forging professional tennis into the worldwide spotlight.

In honor of the 40th anniversary of the historic event, this summer the International Tennis Hall of Fame will host the first and only viewing of the actual event telecast, which has been donated to the Hall of Fame for a one-time showing. The telecast will be screened on Sunday, July 14 at 8 p.m. on the big screen at the Casino Theatre at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island. In addition to the opportunity to experience the great moments of the iconic match, guests will enjoy a unique experience of listening to commentary from King as she re-lives the history-making event. King will introduce the broadcast footage, and then discuss her memories of key moments in the match, what the match meant to her personally, and reflect on its lasting impact.

Tickets for the screening are available now for $30 per person. A limited number of VIP tickets including a pre-screening reception with Billie Jean King are available for $200 per person. The event will be the final event of the International Tennis Hall of Fame’s annual Enshrinement Weekend, when the Hall of Fame Class of 2013 will be honored. Tickets may be ordered online at tennisfame.com or HallofFameTennisChampionships.com, or by phone at 401-849-6053.

“There’s no better place than the International Tennis Hall of Fame to host the world re-premiere of the Battle of the Sexes. I am excited to share my memories of this important event with tennis enthusiasts, history fans, and my fellow advocates for social justice who join us in Newport for the 40th anniversary screening of the match,” said King. “The Battle of the Sexes was an incredible platform to make progress in gender equality. I am grateful that tennis afforded me this opportunity, and I look forward to commemorating the match anniversary with this very special event at the Hall of Fame.”

Christopher E. Clouser, chairman of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, commented, “The Battle of the Sexes was so much more than a tennis match. It was a sports phenomenon, but even more importantly, it was the platform for long overdue progress in gender equality. It significantly advanced equal opportunity and equal employment, among other things. The International Tennis Hall of Fame is proud to present the world re-premiere of this historic match, and to salute one of the most accomplished and revered pioneers of our sport. Through her hard work and dedication, she has created a better society for everyone. We look forward to welcoming Billie Jean King back home to the Hall of Fame.”

The match between King and Riggs was held on September 20, 1973, a pivotal time in the development of women’s professional tennis. Earlier in the year, Riggs had challenged King to the match, but when she declined, he convinced Margaret Court to compete. Riggs delivered a crushing blow of 6-2, 6-1 to Court, who was the No.1 ranked female player in the world at the time. The victory landed Riggs on the cover of Sports Illustrated and Time magazine. King knew that she could not let this defeat linger in the mind of sports fans, and so she agreed to take on Riggs. King prepared diligently for the much hyped match — learning from Riggs’ playing style in the Court match, studying the arena, and leaving nothing to chance. On match day, King’s preparation paid off-her straight sets defeat was a win for gender equality in sports and a vote of confidence for the developing women’s professional tennis tour. It also provided a great opportunity for the sport of tennis to shine in the worldwide spotlight.

Looking back, King commented, “It actually had a great impact on tennis overall. The men and the women’s professional tours had the biggest attendance ever in 1974 because of it. We got our first network contracts because of it, and that’s both men and women. Also, what came from this match is the first generation of men who supported the women’s movement. Even today, I have men who have daughters coming up to me with tears in their eyes, and telling me how they were 10 years old, 12 years old, 17 years old when the match happened. They tell me that it changed their life and how they’ve raised their daughters a certain way as a result. They’re the first generation of men who truly believe that their daughters and sons should have equal opportunity.”

The Battle of the Sexes has been heralded far and wide in the 40 years since it took place. A popular, permanent display in the museum at the International Tennis Hall of Fame is dedicated to the history making match. The display features the sneakers that King wore in the match and the famous “Sugar Daddy” jacket that Riggs wore to the match as part of a lucrative sponsorship deal with the candy maker. In addition, the International Tennis Hall of Fame has previously produced special tribute exhibits commemorating the match, which have been very well received. Plans are underway for a special “Battle of the Sexes” anniversary exhibit at the US Open, to be produced by the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Of course, the historic match is just one highlight of King’s lifelong mission to promote and grow gender equality in the sports world and beyond. She has been a driving force behind the most important developments in the growth of women’s tennis, including the development of the WTA and the successful fight for equal prize money for men and women at the Grand Slams. In 1970, King was one of nine players who broke away from the tennis establishment and accepted $1 contracts from tennis promoter Gladys Heldman. The revolt led to the birth of women’s professional tennis and the formation of the Virginia Slims Tour and Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). In addition to founding the WTA, King is the founder of the Women’s Sports Foundation (1974), Women’s Sports Magazine (1974), and co-founder of World TeamTennis (1974), the groundbreaking co-ed professional tennis league. She continues to be a leader in the fight for equality and recognition in the GLBT community, and has been honored by many of the leading GLBT organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, and Lambda Legal Foundation.

On August 12, 2009, King was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. She was the first female athlete to be presented the honor.

During King’s impressive tennis career, she won 39 Grand Slam singles, doubles, and mixed doubles tennis titles, including a record 20 titles at Wimbledon. She was honored for her tennis accomplishments with enshrinement in the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1987.

For additional information about the Battle of the Sexes film screening, please visit tennisfame.com

 

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