So Billie Jean King isn't going to Sochi, Russia, to watch the Winter Olympics? Two words. Who cares? Billie Jean won a bunch of tournaments in her day, but her greatest claim to fame may have been when she defeated Bobby Riggs in the "Battle of the Sexes", way back in 1973. Nevermind that King was 29 years old and one of the top female tennis players in the world at the time. And also nevermind she was taking on a 55 year old man who was woefully out of shape and had never been a top player even when he was much younger -- this was somehow viewed as a great break through in women's tennis. Two words again. Puh leeze.
In the wake of the match, which King won 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, rumors quickly spread that Riggs had purposefully lost in order to pay off gambling debts (roughly $100,000 -- big money at the time) he owed the mob.
Billie Jean was quick to refute such allegations. She said the look in Bobby's eyes and his body language made her 100% sure he wanted to win as badly as she did. Further, she said she'd bet her life Riggs never got involved with mobsters. But by most accounts, Riggs played extremely poorly during the match, including an inordinate amount of "unforced errors".
Thing is -- despite which side of the story one wishes to believe -- the original contract for the match included a rematch clause. Riggs wanted the rematch indeed. King refused, an obvious breach of that contract. Riggs declined to force the issue.
Yet it leaves one to wonder -- did Riggs really bet a lot of money against himself in order to pay off his gambling debts and tank the match? Or did King beat him fair and square? If the former, it becomes understandable why Billie Jean didn't want to give Bobby another shot. If she did and lost, all the female capital she had gained in the original match would get thrown out the window. The feminist movement would have taken a serious hit. But if the latter -- then why not play him again? 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 was a fairly convincing victory. If she knew she was that much better, then why chicken out from a rematch in violation of the contract she had signed? Something about this never smelled quite right.
Riggs died in 1995 at the age of 77. But just recently his son Larry was interviewed, and when asked if his father ever hung out with mafia guys, responded "absolutely". Methinks a son would know more about such associations than a tennis opponent 40 years ago.
So what does this all mean?
First, we'll never know for sure if Bobby tanked the match against Billie Jean. Dead men tell no tales, no way would Billie Jean admit it now, even if she knew, and then there's the omerta thing. Those guys aren't exactly known for blabbing to the media.
Second, and more importantly, why is Billie Jean's absence from Sochi even newsworthy at all?
Last time I looked, they didn't even PLAY tennis in the Winter Olympics. Hello?