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Forty Years Later: The Battle of the Sexes

NEWPORT, R.I. — Next month will mark 40 years since Billie Jean King authoritatively defeated Bobby Riggs in straight sets (6-4, 6-3, 6-3), in The Battle of the Sexes, the historic tennis match that caught the attention of the world far beyond the sports pages. The match itself was quite a spectacle— celebrities and eager fans filled the sold-out Houston Astrodome, 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 sports entertainment at its best. However, once King was declared the winner, the novelty subsided, and it became clear that the match was a pivotal moment in earning respect and awareness for gender equality in the United States.

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the historic match, the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum will be showing a special exhibition on-site at the US Open entitled Forty Years Later: The Battle of the Sexes. The exhibit will be open daily, August 26 - September 9, and will be located in the American Express US Open Fan Experience in the Chase Center. Admission is complimentary for guests attending the US Open. This is the Hall of Fame’s 15th year hosting an exhibit at the US Open.

“The Battle of the Sexes was one of those exceptional events in sports history that had a tremendous impact on both the sports world and society overall. The women’s liberation movement was gaining public awareness in the United States, and through this match, sports helped transition it to mainstream society. Forty Years Later: The Battle of the Sexes examines women’s tennis history, the state of the game going into the match, the Hall of Fame careers of Riggs and King, and the effects of the match on tennis and women’s sports today,” commented Doug Stark, museum director at the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum. “We look forward to offering visitors to the US Open an opportunity to learn more about the historic match and to reflect on its impact as we commemorate the 40th anniversary.”

Forty Years Later: The Battle of the Sexes will feature a rare collection of match artifacts, dynamic imagery, and interactive multi-media touch screen kiosks. Among the artifacts on display, visitors will see the adidas tennis shoes worn by King and her custom-designed tennis dress created by Ted Tinling. Also on display will be a Sugar Daddy┬« windbreaker that Riggs wore as he entered the Houston Astrodome, as part of a lucrative sponsorship deal with the candy maker. Other pieces on display include historic tennis racquets and memorabilia including the event program and a button that says “King Power.” A replica scorecard with the event title “Liberation Match” inscribed on the front is on loan from Texas Sports Hall of Fame and included in the exhibit.

Dynamic photos and a thoughtful narrative accompany the artifacts and kiosks, including this quote from King, revealing her reflections on her responsibility in the match. “My job in the match was to change the hearts and minds of people to match the legislation of Title IX and what we were trying to do with the women’s movement. It was to validate it, to celebrate it, and to get going towards changing a world where we had equality for both genders,” commented King.

The exhibit also takes a look at the “Mother’s Day Massacre,” an earlier Battle of the Sexes type of match between then world No. 1 Margaret Smith Court and Riggs on May 4, 1973. Riggs delivered a crushing defeat of Court, 6-2, 6-1.The victory landed Riggs on the cover of Sports Illustrated and Time magazine, and had the potential to be detrimental to the burgeoning women’s movement.

A unique highlight of the Hall of Fame exhibition is a Peanuts comic strip by Charles Schulz revealing the social impact of the match between Court and Riggs. In the comic, dated July 15, 1973, the character of “Linus” can’t understand why “Lucy” is still moping about a tennis match from 10 weeks prior, and he suggests she write a letter to help herself get over it. Lucy then drafts a note expressing her emotion about Court’s defeat, which reads “Dear Bobby Riggs, You were lucky!!!”

King knew that she could not let this defeat linger in the mind of sports fans, leading to her agreeing to play against Riggs later in the year.

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.

Riggs was a six-time major champion. In 1939, he won the Wimbledon singles, doubles (w/ Elwood Cooke), and mixed doubles (w/ Alice Marble) titles. He achieved the world No. 1 ranking in singles and doubles and was honored with Hall of Fame enshrinement in 1967.

Located in Newport, Rhode Island, the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum highlights the history of tennis from its origins through present-day, as well as the fascinating life stories of the game’s greatest athletes and industry contributors. The extensive collection features vintage tennis equipment, video highlights and iconic photos, tennis apparel ranging from Victorian dresses to modern fashions, tennis inspired paintings and fine arts, and memorabilia from remarkable moments as recent as the current-year Grand Slams. Changing exhibits and special exhibitions, similar to Forty Years Later: The Battle of the Sexes are displayed year-round in the museum.

For additional information about the exhibit at the US Open or about the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum, please call 401-849-3990 or visit tennisfame.com.

 

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