When Billie Jean King met Bobby Riggs on a tennis court at the Houston Astrodome on September 20, 1973, I was miles away in San Diego. I’d just finished teaching a class of law school students about Poverty Law, and I was blissfully pregnant with my first child.
I was watching the clock, assessing the time it would take me to drive from the law school on the beautiful campus of the University of San Diego to our recently-rented apartment in seaside La Jolla. Waiting at home for me was my handsome and super-smart husband Herb, finished for the day with teaching math students at UCSD, the University of California at San Diego.
We were both Professors Alexander that year, and I took delight in answering our phone and hearing a student ask to speak to “Professor Alexander.” My somewhat amused response: “Which one?”
Herb had snacks and drinks ready for the two of us to munch on and imbibe during the televised tennis match. The drinks included nothing alcoholic for me. Not because the medical profession had pronounced that alcohol was detrimental for growing fetuses. As I recall, that came later. I avoided alcoholic drinks simply because I had no desire to drink them during my pregnancy.
Was it instinct or just dumb luck? When we later that year saw the film “Cinderella Liberty,” in which an often-drunk woman’s pregnancy ends in tragedy, my choice to avoid alcohol was clearly vindicated.
I drove home from USD with as much speed as I could safely muster, arriving in time to watch the much-hyped tennis match dubbed the “Battle of the Sexes.” In the 2017 film that tells the story of the match, Emma Stone captures the Billie Jean King role perfectly. She portrays with aplomb not only King’s triumph over Riggs in that tennis match but also her initial uncertainty over her decision to compete against him and her continuing struggle to ensure that women’s tennis be given equal status with men’s.
As one of the estimated 50 million viewers who watched King on ABC television that night, I can’t imagine any other Hollywood star assuming the role with greater success. Emma Stone embodies Billie Jean King to perfection, and I hope her performance garners the attention of countless moviegoers, including many too young to remember the match that took place in 1973.
Steve Carell carries off his role as Bobby Riggs in the film equally well, depicting the outrageous antics of the 55-year-old Riggs, who initiated the concept of the “Battle of the Sexes.” But the focus here has to be on Billie Jean, the Wonder-Woman-like heroine of her day. By accepting Riggs’s challenge, and then defeating him, she became the mid-twentieth-century symbol of women’s strength and perseverance, advancing the cause of women in sports (and in American culture at large) as much as she advanced her own. Watching the battle on TV with my adored husband, my hoped-for child growing inside me, I was ecstatic when Billie Jean defeated Riggs before 90 million viewers worldwide.
As my pregnancy advanced, I was frequently asked by complete strangers, “Do you want a boy or a girl?” I took pleasure in answering “a girl” just to see the reaction on the faces of the nosey parkers who clearly expected another response.
I was in fact hoping I would give birth to a healthy child of either sex, but I knew that I would treasure having a daughter. When my beautiful daughter was born about seven months after the Battle of the Sexes, and when her equally beautiful sister arrived three years later, Herb and I were both on top of the world.
Maybe watching Billie Jean King in September of 1973 sealed our fate. We really wanted her to win that battle.
Did the endorphins circulating inside me as we watched Billie Jean triumph produce a feeling of euphoria? Euphoria that later led us to produce two Wonder-Woman-like heroines of our own?