The world has a lot to thank Billie Jean King for.
After fellow tennis player Bobby Riggs flew chauvinist jokes her way for months on end, King rose to the challenge and took to the court to battle it out for women everywhere in 1973.
Battle of the Sexes, as it’s now known, was watched by an estimated 90 million people as she smoked him, winning in straight sets.
And it became an historic and iconic moment not just for sports but for bringing about social change – specifically Title IX. A law which states that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
So seminal a sports moment it was, Battle of the Sexes has been given its own turn in the movie world – with Emma Stone playing King and Steve Carrell taking on the part of Bobby Riggs.
After a screening of the new film in New York this week (Tuesday 19 September), King sat along side Emma Stone, the film’s co-director Valerie Faris and Shonda Rhimes for a panel discussion.
And, when she found herself being asked several questions related to John McEnroe (who went after Serena Williams earlier this summer), King – who has 39 Grand Slam titles under her belt – decided to set the record straight, once and for all.
“You notice the guys bring it up,” she said, according to Vanity Fair. “We don’t bring it up. We don’t say we’re better than you. We know it.”
“I didn’t want to play Bobby Riggs,” continued King. “I hate this man-versus-women thing. I want us to be together. It gets me crazy. We can’t beat them. The top women cannot beat the top men. We never claimed we did. Ever. They keep bringing it up. They want attention. We’re talking about John [McEnroe]. He gets exactly what he wants. It’s attention and fear.”
Shona Rhimes – a screenwriter best known for Grey’s Anatomy – then chipped in, saying: “I would like to see John McEnroe win a Grand Slam tournament while pregnant.” Referring to Williams’ win at the Australian Open in January this year while she was two months pregnant.
And it turns out the event even managed to (eventually) sway the mind of Riggs.
“I called Bobby the day before he died and we talked,” King told Yahoo Sports. “I told him I loved him. He said he loved me. At the match, Bobby was all about the money. I was all about social change. He would never agree with me about the importance. Then, on his last day, he finally did.
“Before we hung up he said, ‘We did make a difference, didn’t we?’”
You sure did, King.
Images: Rex Features / Getty