If someone asked me, “Where were you on the evening of September 20, 1973?” I have to admit I had no idea.
Do I need an alibi?
If, however, I had been told that it was the night of the tennis battle between the sexes between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, I would have said, “I was driving to Houston.”
That would have been incorrect.
The tennis match was in Houston. My late great friend and student assistant from the Alabama Department of Sports Information, Frank Rumore, and I were driving to Lexington. We were going to advance this week’s Alabama-Kentucky football game, which was of great interest because it would be the first time Bama football had visited Kentucky since 1947. Alabama coach Paul Bryant , had been Kentucky’s coach for that 1947 game.
And as we drove, we listened – captivated – to the tennis match as Billie Jean King beat self-proclaimed chauvinist Bobby Riggs in the $100,000 winning match.
More important than the money was the boost he gave to women’s athletics.
And the reason I’m concerned about is a new book, “Strong Like A Woman.” It’s written by Laken Litman, who worked with me for a few years on Alabama football. She is a brilliant writer and a hard-working journalist with a national following. Although she was the ideal author for this work, she was hardly limited to the coverage of women’s athletics. After her stint in Tuscaloosa, she became the Notre Dame Beat writer for the Indianapolis Star, then moved on to Sports Illustrated and USA Today.
This book is subtitled “100 Game-Changing Female Athletes,” and every story is compelling.
I remember having a discussion with some big football fans in Alabama in the early 1970s about Title IX, the federal mandate that colleges and universities must provide equal opportunities for women in athletics. “It will be the end of college athletics,” he feared. There were consequences (some men’s sports were dropped), but overall Alabama – for example – gained a new layer of fans due to the success of women’s sports, including softball and gymnastics.
The face of equal opportunity for women in athletics was Billie Jean King, and she wrote the foreword to “Strong Like A Woman.” Naturally, she is also one of the 100 women selected for their importance to women’s athletics as well as their talents.
Even those with minimal interest in women’s athletics (I confess on this level) will appreciate these well-written articles, which come with exceptional photography.
I guess I knew the names of no more than half of the 100 and some of those whose sport I didn’t know. It was interesting, though, and I kept reading. It doesn’t hurt to learn something new about, say, the greatest kayaker in history (Birgit Fischer) or the Paralympian (Tatyana McFadden).
I checked to see if any outstanding Crimson Tide athletes could have made the book. They did not do it.
I also searched for the woman once (and possibly still) considered America’s greatest female athlete of all time. I once played Babe Zaharias Golf Course in Tampa and developed an interest in his life. Although best known for golf, Babe Didrickson Zaharias excelled in every sport before she died of cancer in the mid-1950s. She didn’t make the book, but I suspect that was because she didn’t. t was not so much a pioneer as she was dominant.
This small personal observation aside, I see a lot of good in “Strong Like A Woman”.