Sports Illustrated put together a collection of stories this month in honor of the 40th anniversary of Title IX.
That’s the landmark piece of anti-gender discrimination legislation that basically kicked open the door for women who wanted to participate in sports via any outfit that received federal funding.
Among the articles was a look back at the nationally televised 1973 Battle of the Sexes tennis match at the Astrodome between Billie Jean King, the best women’s player at the time, and and 55-year-old hustler, chauvinist and former Wimbledon champ Bobby Riggs.
Riggs had earlier defeated another top women’s player, Margaret Court — afterward Riggs proclaimed himself the champion of women’s tennis — but King easily handled Riggs’ dink-and-dunk game and thrashed him in straight sets.
The SI story noted how King heard from many women, athletes and non-athletes, who had been inspired by her victory over Riggs, and also how the two rivals became close friends.
Riggs died of cancer in 1995, and just before he did, he had a final visit with King, who remains a strong advocate for gender equality. According to the story, Riggs said to King, “We made a difference. We really did, didn’t we?”
I can believe he said that, because I had the privilege of meeting Riggs back in 1993, and he just seemed like a quality person, despite what his public persona may have led anyone to believe.
He told me about attending Los Angeles Angels games at Wrigley Field as a kid, about Wimbledon, and about his match with King.
He told me how he loved to compete, even still, how he figured he could outcompete most people, and how when golfing, he would play his “ass off for a $5 Nassau.”
And, already battling prostate cancer, he said that he believed that the people who really knew him would remember him “as someone who, in his own way, was one hell of a nice guy.”
I think he was right. And though I obviously didn’t know him well, that’s how I like to think of him.