Forty years after Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in the "Battle of the Sexes," new reports have surfaced that the match was fixed and Riggs tanked it to pay off mob debts. This is a plausible story as it was just an exhibition match, albeit a landmark event. I say, who cares how that match was won because what we know four decades later is that every girl and woman playing tennis today won the right for equality due in large part due to the efforts of Billie Jean King's relentless and courageous fight for what she believed mattered.
In 1973, female athletes were labeled "tom boys" if they were lucky, and far worse, if they were not. Billie Jean King changed that attitude and created a culture of acceptance and encouragement for women in sports. She is, in my mind, the most important woman of the 20th century in the everyday lives of every girl in sports today. And while I don't agree with much that the USTA has done in the last 10 years, they nailed it by naming the Nation Tennis Center in her honor.
Maybe Bobby Riggs cared about equality too and willingly served the cause by losing, or maybe he cared about finding another great hustle or maybe both. Of course he could have just been an inferior player on that momentous day.
The real story during this year's U.S. Open is the continuing triumph of women's tennis as a premier sport.
Steve Kaplan is the owner and managing director of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as director emeritus of Lacoste Academy for New York City Parks Foundation, and executive director and founder of Serve &Return Inc. Steve has coached more than 1,100 nationally- ranked junior players, 16 New York State high school champions, two NCAA Division 1 Singles Champions, and numerous highly-ranked touring professionals. Many of the students Steve has closely mentored have gone to achieve great success as prominent members of the New York financial community, and in other prestigious professions. In 2017, Steve was awarded the Hy Zausner Lifetime Achievement Award by the USTA. He may be reached by e-mail at StevenJKaplan@aol.com.