Did Bobby Riggs throw the 1973 “The Battle of the Sexes” tennis match against Billie Jean King to settle gambling debts? That’s the claim being raised on Sunday by ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.”
You can read the whole Bobby Riggs report there. But to summarize very briefly, a now 79-year-old Hal Shaw claimed that 40 years ago he was hidden where he could eavesdrop on four men talking business in the pro shop at the Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club in Tampa, Florida.
Shaw said that three of the men were mob attorney Frank Ragano, well-known Florida mobster Santo Trafficante Jr, and equally notorious New Orleans mob leader Carlos Marcello. An unknown fourth man joined them.
And somehow they allowed Shaw to eavesdrop on the four of them cutting a deal to have Bobby Riggs throw the tennis match against Billie Jean King in order to clear a $100,000 gambling debt.
Yeah, OK. Sure. I really believe that Carlos Marcello had a habit of allowing unknown guys in the pro shop to eavesdrop on his illegal deals all the time.
And you have to double-down on it and believe that Trafficante had the same habit.
And you also have to swallow the idea that Hal Shaw kinda, sorta forgot to mention it to anybody for 40 freakin’ years.
“The fear is gone,” Shaw told ESPN.
Really? Why wasn’t the fear gone in 1987, when Santo Trafficante died? Or in 1993, when Carlos Marcello died?
Or, considering you can’t slander the dead, why wasn’t the fear gone in 1995 when Bobby Riggs died?
I guess you can tell that I’m not real impressed that somebody pushing 80 can suddenly remember something different from the way it has been remembered for 40 years. But maybe it was a slow day at ESPN.
A Fox report said that longtime Bobby Riggs friend Lornie Kuhle was interviewed for the ESPN report. And Kuhle was pretty upset:
“Why would four mafia guys be in a golf pro shop at midnight? Why is the golf pro in there at midnight? I asked him, ‘Do you believe this [expletive deleted]?’
“It was a real match and [Riggs] got beat.”
Frankly, that will remain my opinion as well unless ESPN can muster some more convincing proof than the memory of a 79-year-old man who didn’t say anything for four decades.
If you have a different opinion of the Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs match, let me know in the comments.
[tennis ball image by Brian Eichhorn via Shutterstock]