Bill Tilden May Have Been the Greatest Tennis Player Ever—So Why Have You Never Heard of This Gay Great?

Tilden, as out as one could be in the early 20th century, left behind a legacy complicated by two arrests for "contributing to the delinquency of a minor."

Big Bill Tilden was once counted as one of the greatest athletes of the still-young 20th century, included with Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey in the 1920s. Those two are still household names among the American public, but Tilden has faded into obscurity.

Nor is his a case of being later overshadowed by better players, like golfer Bobby Jones. Tilden won seven U.S. Championships, set a record at grand slam tournaments that stood until Roger Federer broke it in 2017. He was the first ,ale American to win Wimbledon, and his Wimbledon match record still ranks him third.

No, what has led to Tilden’s slow erasure is a potent cocktail of being a gay man in sports and one who was twice arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. There are no plaques or statues commemorating his achievements; sports writers occasionally resurface his achievements in look back articles, but are quick to shake their heads over his predilection for underage boys.

Now, new podcast Shocking! Lurid! Tawdry! A History of American Scandals is looking at Tilden’s legacy and the two scandals that destroyed it in an effort to grapple with what to do when the personal makes the professional unpalatable.

Hosted by Kasey Howe and The Gay Goods’ editor-in-chief Mark Peikert, Shocking! Lurid! Tawdry! takes up the dustier stories of bad behavior to examine them in the light of 2021. Less interested in the usual oft-told stories than in what has turned into historical footnotes, the series has already covered scandals including Vice President Spiro Agnew, Pia Zadora’s “bought” Golden Globe, the gay sex ring that led to the suicide of D.C. insider Craig J. Spence, and more.

Listen to “Tennis, Anyone? Anyone?” below. And tell us—what scandals have always obsessed you?

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