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'Battle of the Sexes,' 40 Years Since Billie Jean King Beat Bobby Riggs

Billie Jean King blazed a trail for women athletes by beating Bobby Riggs in tennis 40 years ago today.


It seems fitting that on this, the 40th anniversary of the Battle of the Sexes, English soccer star Rachel Yankey reminds us she once shaved her head to play against the boys.

Sure, she was eight years old at the time, but that shouldn’t take anything away from her dedication or passion.

In an interview with BBC Sport published on Friday, England’s most veteran player said it seemed perfectly understandable to join her friends when they signed up with a local club.

“It’s a bit embarrassing now. … We didn’t understand as kids that it wasn’t accepted for girls to play football, until we actually got there and it was all boys,” Yankey told BBC.

“The plan was to just disguise myself to get a game of football.”

It worked for two years, she said, probably because she cut off all her hair and used the name Ray.

Now 33, Yankey’s career is entering its final phase, and women’s football has made considerable strides since little “Ray” first took to the pitch.

She’s played at two women’s World Cups and three European Championships in 129 appearances for England, most of any man or woman.

Yankey has also won 10 league titles during a tenured professional career.

As for the Battle of the Sexes, it was Sept. 20, 1973 that Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in a tennis match at the Houston Astrodome in front of 30,000-plus fans and 50 million more on TV. King earned $100,000 for her victory.

The 29-year-old King – a five-time Wimbledon champion – had little trouble against the 55-year-old Riggs. He was also a former Wimbledon champ who relished the role of “male chauvinistic pig.”

Wall Street Journal reporter Gerald Eskenazi covered the event, and said the promotional press conference beforehand took on a confrontational tone.

That Riggs suggested women stay “at home, taking care of the babies — where they belong,” didn’t help.