A few things I care about …
▪ Happy Billie Jean King Day.
As we mark the date 50 years ago that King soundly beat Bobby Riggs in the famed “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match, a recent column I wrote about the event posed the rhetorical question of what might have happened had King lost. A delightful 30-minute phone conversation with King helped me understand just how much she was never going to let that happen, as she shared memories of how she prepared herself physically and mentally to face an opponent for whom she had great respect.
History has proven how little Riggs did, in contrast, bolstered as he was by an earlier defeat of Margaret Court, distracted as he was by doing anything he could to get publicity for sexist views he was only too happy to share, comments about women being inherently inferior, belonging back home in the kitchen and not out on the fields of play. But that doesn’t change the fact that he did, in fact, lose, no matter how much the backlash to the column, and to the event in general, makes excuses for Riggs.
To those who continue to assert that the match was handicapped to help King — allowing her to use the doubles alleys and Riggs to be limited to one serve — you are wrong. Those parameters applied to a later edition of the Battle of the Sexes between Jimmy Connors and Martina Navratilova (which Connors won, 7-5, 6-2). King and Riggs played by the same rules — as clear as day when ESPN replayed the match in its entirety Tuesday night. There was King, with her wooden racket, and Riggs, with his metal one, her running him all over the court, him sweating through his Sugar Daddy jacket.
And to those who are convinced he threw the match, I can only offer my vehement disagreement, as well as Riggs’s own statement before he died in 1995, to tennis writer Steve Flink: “People said I was tanking, but Billie Jean beat me fair and square. I tried as hard as I could, but I made the classic mistake of overestimating myself and underestimating Billie Jean King. I didn’t really think she had a chance … Even though we had put up a million dollars in escrow for her to play the rematch, she just wouldn’t do it.”
For King to prove him wrong was so important to the movement for women’s rights, because of the impact it had on the momentum of Title IX, on classroom quotas in colleges and universities, and on rules such as not allowing women to get credit cards in their own names. But even more so for the impact it had on people’s hearts and minds, showing in full living color that women deserved the same opportunities as men.
▪ While the King-Riggs match captured headlines and worldwide attention, it’s important to remember how many women were pushing for change in those years, including Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to wear a bib number and complete the Boston Marathon. Images of her being harassed on the course by race director Jock Semple, who wanted to pull her and her number 261 from the race, had a similar emotional impact as King’s efforts, a clear example of the barriers women were facing just to participate in sports.
That was in 1967. Five years later, in 1972 — the same year as the historic Title IX legislation was passed — women were officially recognized by the Boston Marathon. This week, Switzer announced she will wear bib number 261 in the upcoming Boston 10K for Women Oct. 7 on Boston Common. A news release about the race described it as “New England’s largest all-women’s sporting event when the horn sounds at 9:00 a.m.”
Switzer, 76, launched 261 Fearless in 2016, a global nonprofit committed to empowering women through running.
”There is a huge amount of work we yet need to do to empower women, particularly those who have few opportunities,” she said. “It’s simple: When women run, they become empowered. With 261 Fearless, we give women the opportunity to run together in a safe, non-judgmental space. Already, we are making a difference.”
▪ A hearty soccer welcome to fellow New Jerseyan Tab Ramos, hired this week as an assistant coach with the Revolution. Ramos has a long résumé that includes three World Cup appearances as a playmaking midfielder and nine years coaching the US U20 men’s team (leading it to two CONCACAF tournament titles). He’ll work for interim head coach Clint Peay as the Revolution try to stabilize themselves after the debacle of the Bruce Arena investigation, his subsequent resignation, and the overall upheaval in replacing him.
Ramos should have some stories to share with midfielder Ian Harkes, having grown up with Harkes’s father John as well as US soccer goalkeeping great Tony Meola. The three played for the famed Thistle FC out of the Scots American club in Kearny, N.J., earning the tiny town just west of New York the title of Soccertown, USA.
▪ Phil Mickelson might never again be viewed publicly the way he once was, not after his role in promoting the renegade LIV Golf tour, the bridges he burned on the way out of the PGA, and the permanent damage that did to a guy who had sold himself as an everyman, helping him become one of the game’s most popular players. More than ever, it seems so much of Mickelson’s motivation in pursuing the LIV money was to offset decades of gambling debts, as evidenced in part by the confession he made over social media Monday.
In a lengthy post preceding the NFL season and all of its fantasy teams and betting opportunities, Mickelson wrote of the cost of a gambling addiction to his own life, concluding with, “This football season and beyond, enjoy yourself with moderation so it doesn’t detract from your ability to be present. In my experience, the moments with the ones you love will be far more remembered than any bet you win or fantasy league triumph.”
Sincerity has never been Mickelson’s strong suit, but if his message helps at least one person, credit to him.
▪ A moment of silence for The New York Times sports section. It was different, often quirky, but always excellent, filled with extensive reporting and artful writing authored by amazing talent. My own Globe bio page is an ode to Pulitzer Prize-winning Times columnist Dave Anderson, whom I quote on what he once told me, “We don’t cover the sport, we cover the people.”
Take a minute to read this Times goodbye page.