Rafael Nadal Could Learn a Lesson From Watching Battle of the Sexes

Billie Jean King and Rafael Nadal

It’s been 45 years since Billie Jean King trounced Bobby Riggs in the famed Battle of the Sexes match at a time when she also fought for equal pay for women in tennis. Over the weekend she tweeted out her congratulations to tennis champ Rafael Nadal for his win at the French Open, making it his 11th win at that tournament and 17th Grand Slam title. 

But Wednesday she tweeted a call for “equality for all” in response to Nadal’s comments to an Italian magazine that women in tennis shouldn’t make the same as men if they don’t draw the same viewership, an argument he would know doesn’t hold water if he followed King’s career or even watched the 2017 film Battle of the Sexes, which chronicled King’s fight for equal pay. 

When asked about equal pay for women in the sport, Nadal said, “It's a comparison we shouldn’t even make,” according to Yahoo Sports

Nadal went on to explain his reasoning, which isn’t even factual. 

"Female models earn more than male models, and nobody says anything," he told the magazine."Why? Because they have a larger following. In tennis, too, who gathers a larger audience earns more."

But it’s not exactly true that the male players draw larger audiences at Grand Slam matches. While the men’s final at the 2018 French Open garnered about 25 percent more viewers than the women’s final, the women have drawn more at certain matches where celebrity players like Venus and/or Serena Williams have brought their star power and prowess, according to Yahoo Sports. 

In fact, the Williams sisters consistently drew higher TV ratings than any male player from 2010 to 2014, reports CBS Sports.

A longtime proponent of equal pay in tennis, 39-time Grand Slam winner King and eight other women broke off from the Lawn Tennis Association in the early ’70s in a scuffle over the gender pay gap in their sport. The “Original 9,” as they were dubbed, formed what would become the Virginia Slims Tour and later the Women’s Tennis Association. 

“The world needs to always move forward, not backward,” King tweeted in response to Nadal’s comments. “To make it a better place, we need more equality and inclusion, not less. #EqualityForAll.”

Nadal's remarks come after Forbes released its 2018 list of 100 of the world's highest-paid athletes, which does not include a single woman. When the list dropped last week, sports legend King called on men to help advocate for women

“Sports are a microcosm of society. Men, we need you to advocate as much for women as you do for other men,” King wrote. “When more men in power become allies and care about gender equality, the power differential will shift.”

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