Monday, September 23, 2013

The "Real Hoax" Behind the "Battle of the Sexes"

Friday, September 20 was the 40th anniversary of the Battle of the Sexes, which prompted ESPN to promote a story that seems to undermine the validity of what occurred in 1973 at the Houston Astrodome. In effect, ESPN wants us to believe that a hoax occurred in which Bobby Riggs “fixed” the match against Billie Jean King so he could settle his gambling debts with the mob.

Could it have happened?

Given Bobby’s proclivity for gambling and hanging out with mob-types, perhaps it could have happened as then 79-year old former golf pro Hal Shaw described it to ESPN writer Don Van Natta. Bobby’s son (Larry) admitted as much. In fact, after observing how little his father had prepared for the match against King, Larry decided to not even attend the match in Houston.

But what if the so-called hoax was really part of a larger plan in which Billie Jean King and Margaret Court colluded to set up Riggs so that he would pitch the idea to the mob – believing, of course, that he was the mastermind? And all this time, no one knew that the two women were really the ones who orchestrated the ‘fix of the fix’ so that women’s tennis would become the most lucrative sport for women?

Now that Hal Shaw has told his story about overhearing mobsters, there’s another story that needs to be told.

This until-now untold story involved a woman named Sally Haw, who was an Assistant Tennis Pro at the St. Charles Tennis Club in Detroit, where she didn’t actually get paid because let’s face it, women didn’t do sports in those days. In fact, they didn’t even call her an Assistant Tennis Pro, even though she strung rackets, gave tennis lessons, organized leagues and basically ran the Pro Shop. 
Anyway, while attending a tournament in Detroit, Sally happened onto an elevator where the famous tennis players, Margaret Court and Billie Jean King, were deep in conversation. Star struck to be on the same elevator with two of the most famous women tennis players in the world, Haw kept very quiet, not saying a word. [Fortunately for her, she was used to being invisible to people who were famous].

As it turned out, the women tennis players were embroiled in their own conversation and didn’t even notice the diminutive Haw. Thanks to Haw’s propensity for remembering details she was able to re-construct the conversation perfectly – even though it was 40 years ago.

Much to Haw's surprise, Margaret was the more vocal of the two in this conversation.

"Billie, you’ve got to let me play him first. He’ll never suspect that we are setting him up. Look, everyone knows he’s a gambler and he owes a boatload of money to the mob…”

“That’s not the Bobby I know,” Billie Jean responded. “He would never hang out with mob guys. How do you know he would fall for this?”

“Look at the guys he plays golf with,” Margaret continued. “Do you think he hangs with those guys for their pasta? No way… It’s obvious he’s a mob puppet.”

“It’s not so obvious to me,” Billie Jean continued. “Besides, that’s golf. What makes you think he’d agree to fix a tennis match? He has too much integrity for that!”

“Integrity? Bobby? You cannot be serious!!”

“Margaret, how can you say that?”

“Well, Billie, think about it… C’mon! Bobby has been bugging both of us for months now. He wants to play one of us so he can hype it up and make all this money. Aren’t you getting a little sick of his rhetoric? ‘Even a tired-old man of 55 can beat the No. 1 woman in the world…?’

“Yes, but I don’t have time for that… we don’t have time for it. We’ve got a pro tennis tour to promote. And what will people say if we lose…”

“Not if you or I lose – when one of us loses… we’ve got to lose the first match so he thinks he can con another one of us into playing a second match. That’s how he sells it to the mob… there has to be a bigger pay day to follow. If he thinks he’s in control, then he believes he can sell it to the mob…”

“How do you know he’ll buy it, Margaret? Heck, how do you know the mob will buy it?” Billie Jean asked.

“Please, Billie. You don’t think I’ve been cultivating this ‘nicest-mother-on-the-tour-image’ for nothing! What do you think Barry does? He’s not content as a stay-at-home dad. He’s been on the take for years. Why do you think he wanted to marry me? He knew he could make millions off my career. I just had to agree not to spout any of that feminist rhetoric. It makes me more believable when the fix goes down.”

“Wow, Margaret, you are blowing my mind!”

“It’s about time!... so what do you think?” Margaret asked as the elevator stopped and the women exited.

Sally leaned forward to hear what King would say, but she knew she dared not follow them. What if they saw her? She knew that either one of them could easily finish her off with a deadly overhead. She had to keep silent. After all, there’s nothing worse than betraying a (woman) tennis player who’s a shill for the mob!

So, why now? Why is Sally coming forward with her story on this, the 40th anniversary of the most famous tennis match ever?

“I finally got fed up hearing stories about what Hal Shaw was saying,” Sally said. “Yes, he overheard the mobsters talking, but they really thought they were in control of the narrative. Of course, they bought into the idea that a woman couldn’t beat a man – that was patriarchy at work! And, of course, ESPN was pumped about sharing that story. They’re all about men’s sports. How could they ever think that women’s advances were legitimate? They had to get the last laugh!...

“But I couldn’t let that happen. That’s why I had to come forward now!”      


Sport & Gender (11:30 Class) said...

Dr. Spencer,

I was surprised to hear that someone had claimed that the King versus Riggs match was a set up by the mob. I am hoping that this isn't true, and it may be someone looking for attention. Although, even if it is true I don't think much will change in the way of women in sports today and she will still be respected. I still think of Billy Jean as a winner and I think most people will feel the same way. I think this was an interesting view on the whole conspiracy, there are many things that could have and could not have happened leading up to that match and most people won’t know for sure. I don't think the mob set up is true mostly from what I have seen and read in the class and hearing how Bobby Riggs acted and what his attitude was like. I don't think he was the kind of person that could lose to a girl and not come up with an excuse or a reason as to why it happened, especially with the way he was talking to them and had been known to talk about women even before the set up took place. I think he would've told someone just so he could make it seem like he wasn't the weaker one of the two. This isn't something that most people, especially him, would keep with them until their death bed. But like one of the videos said, we’ll never know since Bobby Riggs is dead.

Jasmine Redman

David Cowden said...

Professor Spencer,
This is a very witty and thought-provoking article. I do not know your full, personal intention for writing it, but I want to point out that it effectively showcases just how easy it is to create a story, add intrigue, and let it take off. Your example, like the article, “The Match Maker,” by Don Van Natta Jr., is incredibly difficult to prove wrong. Also, it is incredibly difficult to prove right. These types of stories, while suspicious, retain some believability. The problem occurs when these pieces take off as credible material. Unfortunately, much of the public is easily swayed by controversy. Rumors have a reputation of spreading like wildfire, and being exceptionally challenging to dismiss. I would propose that there is a level of responsibility that an author of a rumor, or suspicious tale, must exhibit. Integrity is vital! If someone knows that their idea or statement cannot be proven and could cause unnecessary trouble, it is better not to say it. It is a sad day when grown people need to learn the same basic lessons of life as a child in elementary school.

Xavier Lowe said...

Dr. Spencer,

I know that some of the things that I say in class can be misconstrued or come off as me being insensitive towards the subject that we are in discussion with at the time. When I first heard this allegation after we talked about the match in class; the first thing that I thought about: “I wonder how Dr. Spencer feels about this segment of ESPN.” Personally I don’t think that it is true but I look things or situations as a whole and for really what they are. There is a possibility that this could have happened and that the match was thrown for the reason that was specified. I understand that there are many people who have strong feelings about this match and the weight that it carried and some people will deny it regardless because of their feelings. I noticed that even your body language and facial expressions change in class when my colleagues and I were acknowledging the fact that it could’ve been fixed so easily in class. Regardless of what happened, Billie Jean King still has accomplished a lot in her lifetime for society but more importantly for women. This is not going to taint her accomplishments in any way because it cannot be proven and it’s in the past so you can’t undo progress. I’m not one to comment heavily on something that I don’t know before I do my research so I really can’t say without watching the match. I also, really don’t know anything about Bobby Riggs to make any assumptions. But bottom line is he’s dead, so we’ll never know.

Xavier Lowe

Clay Leser said...
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Clay Leser said...
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The Tennis Prof Chronicles said...

I tend to agree with your view on this. Could Riggs have done this? Of course, anything is possible, but I am not convinced he would have had the motive to do so. Like you said, Riggs built so much of the hype upon his statements that women should be in the kitchen or the bedroom. I too believe that he would have confided in someone. His coach thought the speculation was ridiculous.
In my view, the bottom line is this: if he did it, he should be ashamed.
Thanks for sharing your views.
Dr. Spencer

The Tennis Prof Chronicles said...

You brought up some of the key points that I wanted to make in writing this parody. For one thing, since my story was based upon the 'facts' of Don Van Natta's story, there were elements of 'truth' (or what some people call 'facticity'). Then again, much of Van Natta's story is based upon the 'truths' that circulated through the original story about the 'Battle of the Sexes.' I agree with you that we have a responsibility to write with integrity. I'm not sure how to interpret your final sentences but you have given me some things to ponder.
Dr. Spencer

The Tennis Prof Chronicles said...

I appreciate your reflections on our discussion in class through your comments about this entry. I actually thought that you said several things that revealed your sensitivity to the issues we discussed. One thing that you said to me was that it was obvious that this subject meant a lot to me. I decided to assign Don Van Natta, Jr.'s article in part because I do not want students to feel like they have to adopt my perspective about any of what we discuss in class. The other thing that you said that really struck me was something to the effect that Billie Jean had won the match simply by stepping onto the court - because of all that Riggs had said about women! That was a really good point.
Thanks again for your reflections on this topic and class discussion.
Dr. Spencer

The Tennis Prof Chronicles said...

I hadn't thought about Riggs' demeanor when he jumped the net until several people brought it up in class. Before he passed away, he was asked numerous times if he had fixed the match. In each case, he denied fixing the match and credited Billie Jean King with playing better than he did. Since he never admitted it before he died, I wonder if he would have been embarrassed by the allegations in this article coming out after he died. In my estimation, it does not cast him in a good light even more than it may undermine what Billie Jean King accomplished.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the subject.
Dr. Spencer

Anthony Cornwell said...

Dr. Spencer,
I know that I am late on the comment but I did enjoy the blog that you have written. The only thing that I am saddened by in reality is that Bobby Riggs is not here to tell us his side of the story. This would be the only way that we would know if he really threw the match or not. Every time I go back over your blog and the real story it just makes me want to believe that he did throw the match. I just don’t find it possible for him to dominate the game with Margaret Court, the number one female player in the world and then lose to Billie Jean King. It just doesn’t make sense to me. How do you beat the number one player in the world in straight sets, and then lose to a woman not worthy of number one in straight sets. Another reason I can believe the Riggs threw the game is that plenty of online articles said that Riggs had a history of gambling. He even earned a nickname, the Tennis Hustler. But then again, just because I believe it doesn’t make it true. The only people that truly know are Riggs and the Mob. It’s a shame that the world will never know.
Anthony Cornwell, Jr.