The best story I found in Tom Lecompte’s biography of Bobby Riggs (The Last Sure Thing, Black Squirrel Press) comes from Billie Jean King. About two weeks after the match, she held a press conference at The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. “I must have met everybody in the building,” she said later. “I talked to most of them, just small talk. I found out later, though, that the morning after the match with Bobby, several of the women there had stormed into their bosses’ offices and demanded raises on the spot. I couldn’t believe it.”
The anecdote suggests the impact the tennis match between King and Riggs had on the public at large. It would be interesting to know how many tennis fans there were among the women who suddenly decided to ask for raises, but it doesn’t matter. As tennis, the match was nothing special. As Gene Mako, one of Bobby’s pals, told Lecompte, strictly as a sporting event, the match was at best dubious. “At the time, there were 5000 people around who could beat either one,” Mako maintained. But King-Riggs certainly got people talking about women in sports, and it kicked tennis up into a place in the public consciousness that the sport hadn’t occupied since Bill Tilden’s best days.
The 30th anniversary of “Riggs Loses” is an appropriate time to consider and celebrate what women and girls have won in the realm of sports since 1973. It’s sad and ironic that we’re doing that on the same show in which we have to deal with the WUSA’s decision on Monday to suspend operations.