Changing minds

Billie Jean King speaks about impact of beating ‘one of her heroes’ in ‘Battle of the Sexes’

Tennis great Billie Jean King. (YouTube / AARP)

Billie Jean King has revealed that her legendary win against Bobby Riggs, the former World No. 1 tennis player who challenged her to a “battle of the sexes” tennis match in 1973, meant all the more to her because “he was one of her heroes.” Speaking with AARP ahead of the release of Battle of the Sexes, a movie about the iconic match, King, 73, said that one of the reasons she was able to beat Riggs was “because I respected him so much.”

The match between Riggs and King came four months after the 55-year-old Riggs had beaten then Women’s World No. 1 player Margaret Court. In wake of the victory, Riggs had taunted the entirety of the women’s tour, claiming that he would be able to easily defeat any of them.

“Everybody in the world thought a guy — any guy — could beat any girl. That got me irritated,” said King, recalling the circumstances that led to her facing off against her childhood hero. “When I played Bobby, this is what I wanted out of it: I wanted everyone to come together. I wanted to start changing the hearts and minds of people … I promised myself that I would fight for equal rights and opportunities for boys and girls, men and women. The King-Riggs match gave me the biggest platform I could ever have had.”

Before the match, Riggs presented King with a giant Sugar Daddy lollipop. In return, King offered him a squealing piglet, representing his chauvinism, and proceeded to beat him down in a straight sets win.

In the interview, King shared her thoughts on the impact of her famous victory, and revealed to AARP an aspect of how girls are raised that she said continues to “drive me insane.”

Listen to the interview in the video below.

With the Battle of the Sexes film, in which King is portrayed by Emma Stone, opening in theaters this weekend, the tennis great is doing a fair amount of speaking out. King appeared on CBS Sunday Morning this week. In the video package that leads into the interview, CBS producers showed footage of Riggs reveling in his signature male chauvinism.

“The male is supreme, the male is king,” Riggs is seen saying, “no matter what the difference in age,” among other sexist remarks. But despite the grating behavior, Riggs had legions of fans at the time, including King, who wasn’t put off by his “bravado,” as CBS News correspondent Lee Cowan put it.

“When he starts getting like that, I think it’s adorable,” King explained. “It’s fine. I think it’s cute,” she said when Cowan asked if it all rubbed her the wrong way. “No, I think it’s entertainment. It’s great.” Then, Cowan asked if she thought he really believed “that stuff.”

“Yeah, he did,” she replied. Watch the full interview below.

Read the full story at AARP.


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