Monday, September 20, 2010

Rant #336: Anyone For Tennis?

I am not a fan of tennis at all. I think the glitzy costumes--as well as the link to so many wealthy people--kind of diminishes whatever athletic prowess these athletes have.

However, today is the anniversary of a publicity stunt that made everyone tennis fans for at least a very brief few hours.

In one of the all-time sports publicity stunts, in 1973, so-called male chauvinist Bobby Riggs lost three straight sets to all-time tennis great Billie Jean King in what became known as "The Battle of the Sexes."

This is an event that could have only happened in the decade of the 1970s. The event was broadcast by ABC, I believe, and just about everyone I know at least tuned in to see how this thing was progressing. I know I did, even though I really didn't like tennis.

What precipitated this male vs. female thing was that Bobby Riggs, a former tennis champion who was way past his prime, proclaimed that any male could beat any female in the sport. He went on every talk show on the air at the time to push his point. He virtually created "trash talking" with the "venom" he directed at women tennis players.

He was the self-proclaimed "court hustler," and hustle he did. He was everywhere.

He eventually challenged King--who was at the height or near height of her fame and athletic prowess--to a match, and she accepted.

You have to remember, this was at the height of the women's liberation movement. Many women did not want to be destined to become homemakers. They wanted to forge their own identity as career people. Many even burned their bras in protest to male dominance.

So this event took shape at the perfect place, at the perfect time.

This was during the pre-cable time, when most people didn't even know what cable TV was, so there was still only a few channels to select from when one wanted to watch TV.

ABC carried the match from the Houston Astrodome, and it was covered by the news media from not only here, but across the globe.

Riggs got creamed, so he didn't prove his point at all.

But to this day, I have thought that this whole thing was a setup, created to promote tennis on TV. At this point in time, tennis was much like bowling, at least on television. It was there, but was not that highly thought about.

This event put it into a different spectrum, one in which it exists to this day.

And get the fella's last name (Riggs); I often thought that that was kind of funny, too.

Riggs died several years ago, and King is looked upon as both an icon for tennis and for civil rights. Tennis draws significant ratings on TV, although to me, it is still a fashion show in an athletic setting, nothing more.

But that event catapulted it into the big time, and whoever you were rooting for, it really didn't matter; tennis was here to stay on TV, and it wasn't going to go away.

Any lady want to challenge me to a game of bowling? I bet I could beat them with my eyes closed.

(Yeah, right!).

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