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🎾The past, present and future of women's tennis
HELLO AND HAPPY SUNDAY!
Tomorrow marks the 48th anniversary of the “Battle of the Sexes,” a tennis match featuring the legendary Billie Jean King (BJK) vs. former men’s world No. 1 (and self-described male chauvinist) Bobby Riggs.
So today we’re diving into the history of the match, the fight for gender equality in tennis and the state of the women’s game today. Game, set, let’s get to it.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
I’m taking this match very seriously. I love to win. I welcome the responsibility and the pressure. Bobby had better be ready.
— Billie Jean King, ahead of the Battle of the Sexes match. Spoiler alert: Bobby wasn’t ready.
🔥 The trailblazers
Three years before she battled Riggs, BJK led a group of nine female tennis players — the Original Nine — in a stand that led to the creation of the tennis circuit we know today.
- Frustrated with unequal prize money and unequal chances to compete, King, along with American tennis pros Rosie Casals and Nancy Richey, planned to boycott a tournament held after the 1970 US Open.
- Per the advice of former player and founder of World Tennis Magazine, Gladys Heldman, the women instead created a tour of their own and staged a tournament in Texas.
The United States Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA, now USTA)threatened to suspend any player who competed in the tournament, but those threats didn’t scare the Original Nine, which consisted of King, Casals, Richey, Valerie Ziegenfuss, Judy Dalton, Kerry Melville Reid, Peaches Bartkowicz and Kristy Pigeon.
- The nine women signed symbolic one-dollar professional contracts to compete in the tourney, joining what would later become the “Virginia Slims Circuit.”
- In 1973, the Virginia Slims Circuit evolved into the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) we know today. The rest is history.
💪 The Battle of the Sexes
The aforementioned Bobby Riggs had his tennis heyday in the 1930s and ’40s, rising to amateur World No. 1 in 1939. But in the 1970s, he decided he needed some attention. A shameless hustler, Riggs claimed that women’s tennis players were so inferior, he could beat the game’s best while in his mid-50s.
- Riggs first faced Grand Slam singles record holder Margaret Court (who, for the record, we’re not fans of) and won in straight sets. While BJK had previously rejected Riggs’ request to play, she now knew what she had to do.
The “Battle of the Sexes” was played in the Houston, Texas Astrodome in front of 30,000 people, along with approximately 90 million across the globe tuning in on TV. BJK defeated Riggs in dominant fashion — 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 — to walk away with the $100k prize pot. Mic drop.
- But her win wasn’t just about a paycheck. BJK dismissed Riggs’ sexist assertions, inspiring women to stand up for equal pay and equal treatment, within and beyond the sports world. Bow down.
💰 The fight for equal pay
BJK’s iconic victory inspired countless women to fight for equality in their own lives, a fight that continues to this day. It wasn’t until 2007 that all four of tennis’s Grand Slams awarded equal prize money to women and men.
US Open: In 1973, after threats of a boycott by BJK, the US Open became the first Grand Slam to award equal prize money, with Margaret Court and John Newcombe both earning $25k that year.
Australian Open: While women actually earned more than men (sounds good to us!) at the 1987 and 1988 Australian Opens, pay disparity with men out-earning women was status quo in the years preceding and following that brief two-year anomaly. The major finally achieved gender parity in 2001.
French Open: The French Open was the last major to announce that they would award women and men equal pay, but they became the third to act on it in June 2006, as Justine Henin successfully defended her 2005 title and walked away with $1.5 million.
Wimbledon: In 2006, Venus Williams penned a powerful op-ed calling for equal prize money at Wimbledon, writing in part: “I intend to keep doing everything I can until Billie Jean’s original dream of equality is made real.”
- That dream was finally realized in 2007, when Venus won and became the first woman to earn equal pay at Centre Court.
🔢 BJK by the numbers
The Battle of the Sexes is just one of the many reasons we forever stan BJK, so why else does King reign supreme? Let us count the ways…
3: The number of teams BJK is part-owner of — the LA Dodgers, the LA Sparks and LA’s new NWSL team, Angel City FC.
9: As in Title IX, the landmark legislation King helped to pass, testifying on Capitol Hill on the necessity of the bill in advancing girl’s and women’s sports at educational institutions.
39: The number of career Grand Slam titles (in singles, doubles and mixed doubles) BJK won, including a record 20 at Wimbledon. Jolly good!
100: In 1971, King became the first female athlete (in any sport) to earn $100k in prize money in a single season. Cha-ching.
🎾 Women’s tennis today and tomorrow
Thanks to endorsements and savvy investments, women’s tennis players are some of the biggest earners in sports today. Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams top Sportico’s 2021 Highest-Paid Female Athletes list, earning $55.2 million and $35.5 million, respectively, and are the only women on Forbes’ “World’s Highest-Paid Athletes” list.
When it comes to on-court depth, women’s tennis can’t be beat. Over the last 18 major tournaments, 11 players have won their first Grand Slam title. Additionally, each major in 2021 was won by a different player.
🎾Emma Raducanu and Daniil Medvedev win US Open
- Raducanu, who entered the tournament , won 20 straight sets on her way to claiming her first major (of many, we’re sure).
- And while Fernandez’s fairy-tale run didn’t end quite the way Canadians had hoped, her eloquent post-match speech — which included on 9/11 — proved why she was to many.
Men’s final: On the flip side, yesterday’s men’s final featured two of the world’s best, No. 2 Medvedev and No. 1 Novak Djokovic, with Djokovic looking to complete the calendar Grand Slam after winning the year’s .
🏈Latest news from Week 1 of the NFL
Worst loss: The Green Bay Packers recorded their worst loss of the 17-year Aaron Rodgers era yesterday with a 38–3 embarrassment at the hands of the Drew Brees–less New Orleans Saints. Maybe all that took its toll?
Injuries: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick made his Washington Football Team (WFT) debut...and then made a quick exit after suffering a game-ending hip injury in the second quarter of WFT’s 20–16 loss to the LA Chargers.
- Meanwhile, Cleveland Browns star Odell Beckham Jr. didn’t even make it to the field, with his keeping him out of the lineup for the 33–29 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Monday Night Football: Week 1 isn’t over yet. Tonight, the Baltimore Ravens will visit the Las Vegas Raiders for the season’s first edition of Monday Night Football, and after the Ravens lost their top three running backs to season-ending injuries, QB Lamar Jackson will be put to the ultimate test. Don’t miss this one at 8:15 p.m. ET.
Sports Quick Hits: September 13, 2021
🏎F1: Yesterday’s Italian Grand Prix (GP) was a trip. The finally came to a head yesterday when Verstappen caused a crash that took them both out of the race (don’t worry, ), before sweetheart Daniel Ricciardo won his first GP since 2018 and celebrated with a traditional . Crikey.
🏈College football: Thanks to a huge upset win over the Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday, the Oregon Ducks flew up to No. 4 on the . At the same time, BYU moved up to No. 23 after beating rivals Utah for the first time since 2009.
- But the real winner? The from the upper deck at the Miami game and was caught safely in an American flag. Nine lives still intact.
🏀WNBA: The Seattle Storm will have to finish the regular season (all seven days of it) without their best player. Breanna Stewart last week and will be reassessed prior to the playoffs (which are set to begin on September 23rd). Rest up, champ!
🏈NFL Traditions We Love
QUOTE OF THE DAY
We could call it the Terrible Towel...Yes. And I can go on radio and television proclaiming, “The Terrible Towel is poised to strike!”
— The late Myron Cope, discussing his idea for the now iconic “Terrible Towel,” a staple among Pittsburgh Steelers fans. Boy, did the radio host’s idea strike.
💦 Gatorade showers
As a coach in the NFL, you haven’t truly won a big game until you’ve been soaked in a bath of flavored electrolytes. Gatorade showers aren’t unique to one particular team, and they aren’t unique to football anymore either, but they remain a popular NFL tradition. The bigger the game, the bigger the bath.
While there are differing opinions about when the tradition began, the New York Giants popularized the trend in the '80s. It began in 1984, when defensive tackle Jim Burt received criticism from head coach Bill Parcells before one of their biggest games against the Washington Football Team.
- After the squad pulled off a 37–13 victory, Burt surprised Parcells with a Gatorade shower in response to his harsh coaching leading up to the game, a gesture of cold revenge.
- His teammate, Harry Carson, was his accomplice and continued the baths in celebration after each Giants win from that point on, including their Super Bowl XXI championship in 1987.
The tradition has been so cemented into football culture that gamers can even dunk their coach in some Madden video games. And we can’t forget one of the most popular Super Bowl prop bets: the color of the Gatorade poured over the winning coach. Hint: orange is a good guess.
💛🖤 The Terrible Towel
Possibly the best-known tradition in the NFL, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Terrible Towel, or the “luckiest towel in sports,” first appeared in 1975 thanks to the aforementioned Cope.
- In an effort to excite fans at Three Rivers Stadium and “soak up the competition,” Cope waved a yellow dish towel from his radio booth during a playoff game against the Baltimore (now Indianapolis) Colts.
- Cope encouraged fans to bring towels of their own to the game too, and when they all began waving their yellow rally rags, the Steelers produced big plays, resulting in a 28–10 victory. And thus, the magic of the towel began.
The Black and Gold had a great season that year, making it all the way to Super Bowl X, where the team provided fans with specially printed towels that read: “Myron Cope’s Official Terrible Towel.” Sure enough, the fans waved and the Steelers performed, securing a 21–17 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, all “thanks to the Towel.”
- Superstition soon followed as opposing teams or players that dared disrespect the towel become subject to its “curse.” In 2008, the Tennessee Titans felt the wrath of the Terrible Towel after a group of players stomped on one after beating Pittsburgh.
- Tennessee went on to lose their next two games, just barely missing a chance at playing in Super Bowl XLIII. Who did make it to the Super Bowl that year? You guessed it, the Steelers. Oh, and they won, no less. Spooky.
The towel’s magic continues today. In 2010, Pittsburgh began inviting a celebrity to do a “Terrible Towel Twirl” before kickoff at each home game, and many recognizable names have had the honor, including Channing Tatum and Wiz Khalifa. Black and yellow, black and yellow.
🧀 Lambeau Leap
At Lambeau Field — home of the Green Bay Packers — there’s only one appropriate touchdown celebration: the Lambeau Leap. It all began in 1993 when LeRoy Butler launched himself into the stands after he scored his first career NFL touchdown.
Today, seats in the “Jump Zone” are the most coveted in the stadium. But players who jump often have less than ideal experienceswith fans. Some have been covered in beer, ketchup, popcorn and in true Wisconsin fashion, even cheese curds.
- Worst of all, there have been reports of inappropriate touching by unruly fans. Um, not okay.
- Also, the leap is actually pretty high, with most of the wall around 6 feet tall. Imagine scoring a touchdown and then making a jump like that...
The NFL cracked down on excessive touchdown celebrations in the early 2000s and has consistently made changes to the rules since. But, lucky for Packers fans, the Lambeau Leap was grandfathered into the rules, allowing for the tradition to continue.
- In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the first six to eight rows of seating in every stadium were off limits to fans last year, making the leap at Lambeau Field impossible in order to protect players and fans alike.
- NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said he expects stadiums to be at full capacity, but with the Delta variant and a handful of unvaccinated players on the roster, maybe this tradition can wait another year.
💙💚 The 12s
The Seattle Seahawks’ first stadium in the late '70s was the Kingdome, a concrete-covered facility that echoed with the cheers of fans for the home team. In preparation, visiting teams trained with special noise systems in an attempt to mimic the loud rumble experienced during games.
- Seattle fans quickly earned themselves a reputation as some of the loudest in the league.
In a tribute to the fans and their vocal support, in 1984 Seahawks president Mike McCormack retired the No. 12 jersey. The number symbolized the “extra player” (the fans in the stands) that contributed to every Seahawks win.
- In a 2005 battle with the NY Giants at the Seahawks’ new home, Qwest Field, the 12s created so much noise that the Giants’ offense couldn't hear their play calls, forcing 11 false start penalties.
- The Giants’ kicker also seemed to be affected by the crowd, missing three game-winning field goal attempts, and the Giants lost in overtime. Oof.
In 2011, the 12s turned the volume even higher during a battle with the then-reigning Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. During a game-winning 67-yard touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch, eruptions from the stands registered as a 1-to-2 range magnitude earthquake. Can’t make this sh!t up.
Before every home game, the Seahawks invite one person — a celebrity, beloved community member or former player — to hoist a number 12 flag. So special.
🦃 🍽 Thanksgiving Day
Dating all the way back to the league’s inception in 1920, the oldest tradition in the NFL is the annual Thanksgiving Day game. Since 1934, the Detroit Lions have always played on the holiday in November, only missing the tradition due to World War II between 1939 and 1944.
- The Turkey Day contest tradition for Detroit began as an effort to attract more fans and, with network ties at NBC, owner George A. Richards solidified the slot for the Lions.
Not long after, in 1966, the Dallas Cowboys joined the Thanksgiving Day club when general manager Tex Schramm took a page out of Richards’ book and sought out a way to get more national attention and more fans in the stands for “America’s Team.”
- Most NFL teams have now played on Thanksgiving against either the Lions or the Cowboys, but the two squads have become synonymous with Turkey Day. Gobble gobble.
🔵🔴 Bills Mafia
One of the newer traditions in the NFL, Bills Mafia has already made its mark. As some of the most committed fans in football, Bills supporters have endured a lot. After four consecutive Super Bowl appearances in the 1990’s, the squad hasn’t seen similar success for a while, but their support system has only gotten stronger.
- The name may be misleading, but the “Mafia” has no relation to illegal activity. The term instead points to the lifelong commitment it is to be a fan of the Bills and their legacy of defending “the family.”
In November 2010, Bills fans came to the defense of wide receiver Stevie Johnson after he dropped an important pass during a game against the Steelers. Stevie tweeted about the drop and received criticism from ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
- Crowds of online Bills fans, defending their family, responded to Schefter with criticism of their own. Thus the Mafia was born.
- With this year looking bright for Buffalo, will the Mafia get the chance to cheer their beloved Bills on to a Super Bowl win?