Fifty Years After Title IX, a Look at Billie Jean King’s Activism


Billie Jean King talking with supporters of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a marketing campaign occasion in Des Moines, Iowa, 2016. (Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons)

This yr marks the 50th anniversary of Title IX of the Schooling Amendments of 1972, the regulation that opened all academic packages—together with sports activities—to ladies in america. Tennis legend Billie Jean King has completed greater than some other athlete to make the promise of Title IX a actuality. She additionally received a file 20 Wimbledon titles, 13 U.S. titles, 4 French titles, and two in Australia between 1961 and 1979.

A lot of the U.S. acknowledges King for besting “male chauvinist pig” and tennis champ Bobby Riggs in what was billed the “battle of the sexes” in 1973 earlier than an unprecedented TV viewers of over 30 million. Off the courtroom, King fought for equal prize cash for girls, and in 1971 grew to become the primary lady athlete to win over $100,000 in prize cash. She grew to become the primary president of the Ladies’s Tennis Affiliation, and co-founded the Ladies’s Sports activities Basis. 

However King isn’t only a tennis legend. Although she retired from aggressive play in 1990, she continues to be a tireless advocate for girls’s rights and homosexual rights, and a role model for all of us. Life Journal named King one of many “100 Most Essential People of the twentieth Century.” In 2009 President Obama awarded her the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom, for her work advocating for equal rights. 

On this fiftieth anniversary yr of Title IX, we revisit a 2012 interview with Equal Time’s Martha Burk and Billie Jean King on her activism, tennis profession and what Title IX means to her. 

Martha Burk: You bought your first tennis racket at age 11, and also you have been enjoying in public parks, public services. That very same yr, you advised your mom that you simply have been going to be primary on this planet. Had been you psychic, or did you simply love the sport that a lot?

Billie Jean King: Properly, truly, that occurred the primary time I went out to the general public parks, which was solely the second time I hit a tennis ball. I did announce to my mom that I wished to be the primary tennis participant on this planet. I most likely mentioned “I’m going to be,” however I feel as you become old you understand it’s not that simple. There’s a variety of concern concerned. I feel generally it actually drives you more durable, as a result of I undoubtedly wished to be primary. I figured if I’m going to be within the sport, why not go for the gold? So, sure, I wished to be primary. What actually occurred to me a yr later (at 12 years outdated) has most likely been extra necessary for my life, and that’s I used to be beginning to consider our sport, in regards to the world round me. I knew I wished to vary issues.

I observed all people in tennis wore white sneakers, white socks, white garments, used white tennis balls, and all people nearly was white. I requested the query, “The place’s all people else?” And I grew up in staff sports activities as a baby, and so, one thing simply appeared off to me about our sport. I actually thought, “Jeez, I’d actually like to vary tennis so it’s extra inclusive.” Then I began to develop my ideas like, “Properly, what about the whole lot else? Why don’t I [do it] if I can?” And I knew that tennis might be the way in which to have a platform. I most likely couldn’t articulate it in these phrases, however I used to be visualizing it. I believed, “Properly, if I may ever get adequate, perhaps individuals would pay attention, perhaps I may assist tennis develop as a sport and be extra inclusive. Perhaps I may assist change the world.” I knew tennis was the ticket for that, and so, I promised myself from that day that I’d dedicate my life to equal rights and alternatives to girls and boys.

The boys nonetheless have extra alternatives all through the world, however to have equal prize cash within the main championships actually sends a powerful message. I preserve telling individuals, it’s not in regards to the cash. It’s in regards to the message.

Burk: Let’s speak about a few of that activism as a result of it has been—and nonetheless is—very sturdy in your life. You’ve got made change and made waves all alongside the way in which, and one is equal pay for girls in your sport. If you received the US Open in ’72, you bought fifteen thousand {dollars} lower than the male champion. 

So, the following yr you have been profitable since you lobbied for and acquired equal prize cash for the men and women within the US Open, however I’m questioning how you probably did it. Had been the opposite feminine gamers with you again in ’73, or have been they stunning a lot afraid to rock the boat?

King: Oh, we had a couple of girls who have been prepared to rock the boat, like Ceci Martinez and Esmé Emmanuel. Esmé is from South Africa. Ceci’s from the San Francisco space. I used to be all the time chosen to be the chief by the gamers. I feel followers select leaders, however I discover that individuals push you. I used to be pushed since I used to be in elementary college. “Oh, Billie, you do it, you are able to do it.” So, I went one on one with Billy Tauber, who was a event referee and who I actually appreciated so much, and I mentioned, “Can we simply have some quiet time? I’m the chosen one to return in and discuss with you.” I used to be very quiet with him. I feel it was ’71 or ’72 we had that dialogue, as a result of by 1973, the board of administrators at the united statesTennis Affiliation would have needed to say sure to it, and so they did. The U.S. Open was to this point forward of the opposite majors. We solely actually have equal prize cash in some phrases, not all. The boys nonetheless have extra alternatives all through the world, however to have equal prize cash within the main championships actually sends a powerful message. I preserve telling individuals, it’s not in regards to the cash. It’s in regards to the message.

Image of Billie Jean King, sitting on a bench in a locker room, holding a tennis racket.
Billie Jean King in New York, 1978. (Lynn Gilbert / Wikimedia Commons)

Burk: And that took till 2007 for all of the majors to return on board. Is that proper?

King: Right. It’s superb how a lot work it takes off the courtroom day and evening. There have been 9 of us that signed a one-dollar contract in 1970. That’s the start of girls’s skilled tennis as a result of I wished us to be with the blokes. I wished to have one affiliation. I saved saying we will have one voice. We’re a worldwide sport. We will help the world a lot on and off the courtroom. We needs to be collectively, and the blokes have all the time rejected us. I’ve all the time thought that was a mistake for our sport as a result of after we play with them within the majors and different tournaments, they’re far more valued as a result of we’re collectively. So, simply from a enterprise perspective, I feel it could be sensible as effectively. However, they actually don’t need us to have one group.

Burk: So, you grew to become the primary president of the Ladies’s Tennis Affiliation. Is that proper?

King: I truly based it. I acquired up on the Gloucester Lodge. A couple of of us had been attempting to get the ladies collectively, and it was actually tough. So, I had Rosie Casals discuss to 2 individuals I believed she may persuade. Ann Jones talked to any person else. I acquired every participant to inform me who they thought they may persuade, and every of them had solely two individuals as a result of if they’d greater than that they wouldn’t have the time to do it. So, I mentioned every of us must have at the least two gamers we expect we will persuade, and let’s go. So, we lobbied and lobbied and lobbied, and we had about 45 to 55 individuals on the Gloucester Lodge in 1973. I acquired up and mentioned, “I’m not going to spend another breath of my time on this. That is one thing that ought to have been completed a very long time in the past.” I had Betty Stöve lock the doorways within the again so no one may go away. She’s from Holland.

She’s a Dutch participant. She’s very large and ominous. So, I mentioned, “Don’t let anyone out of right here till we determine whether or not we’re going to have this or not,” and she or he mentioned, “Why ought to we do it?” And I mentioned, “We’ll have one voice. We’ll be stronger. We will leverage. We will do all types of issues if we’re one voice, if we’re collectively.” So, all people voted for it. My former husband, Larry King, had all of the by-laws written earlier than we voted. So, we have been capable of signal after which elect our officers proper there earlier than anybody left the room.

Burk: So, was there a variety of solidarity there?

King: A few of them mentioned sure as a result of they weren’t certain. Speaking to a few of them now, they go, “I didn’t actually know what I used to be doing, however I figured why not? Let’s go for it.” That was very candy of them. Now, we’re referred to as the WTA Tour.

Burk: You wrote last year in The Huffington Post that the passage of Title IX did open necessary doorways, and also you knew it was going to be an extended haul to maintain these doorways open. That was one motive you based the Ladies’s Sports activities Basis. Are you able to inform me in regards to the Basis?

King: We fought to get Title IX. A number of athletes have been truly concerned in attempting to get that completed, really attempting to inform them why it’s so necessary from a sports activities perspective, but in addition from schooling. It’s actually about schooling, and lots of people don’t actually perceive it as a result of sports activities is seen. I preserve saying, “No, it’s an academic passage.”

The rationale I wished to beat Bobby [Riggs]—which was ’73, one yr after Title IX was handed on June 23, 1972—was to begin to change the hearts and minds of individuals to match the laws of Title IX. As we all know, to vary hearts and minds to match laws isn’t that simple generally. So, I believed it was crucial that I needed to beat him for lots of causes, but it surely wasn’t a couple of tennis match. It was about social change, and I knew that. It was very, very clear that it was going to get all people emotionally loopy, and it did.

It wasn’t a couple of tennis match. It was about social change, and I knew that.

Burk: There was a lot hype. Bobby Riggs was 55 years outdated. He mentioned the ladies’s tennis sport was inferior. He may beat any lady, and he challenged girls to play him, and also you have been one in all them. This was within the Houston Astrodome earlier than 30,000 individuals, an viewers of 30 million on tv. We have been pulling for you so exhausting as a result of it was the center of the ladies’s motion. We needed to show ourselves in so some ways, and we saved saying, “Oh my God, what if she loses? She will’t lose. After all, you didn’t. You trounced him. God, have been we relieved. We have been completely satisfied.” 

King: So was I. I nonetheless get up generally in a sweat considering I haven’t performed him, and I’m going, “Oh, thanks, God. I did win. Thanks. Thanks.” Each time I’m going out the door, each single day, somebody brings that as much as me. You can not consider how many individuals come as much as me, of all ages. What’s very fascinating is that males will come as much as me with tears of their eyes many occasions, and say they have been very younger once they noticed that match, and now they’ve a daughter, and so they increase their daughter very in a different way due to that have.

Image of Billie Jean King standing next to Bobby Riggs on a tennis court.
Billy Jean King & Bobby Riggs in 1973. (Wikimedia Commons)

Burk: It was a tremendous social change occasion. You’re completely proper. I don’t assume it would ever be forgotten actually. It’s going to be in annals.

King: It’ll most likely fade as every era goes on, however hopefully individuals will use that have to maintain altering issues and preserve going ahead. The rationale I began the Ladies’s Sports activities Basis was I wished us to guarantee that Title IX stayed sturdy as a result of it was a brand new regulation. Lots of people weren’t completely satisfied about it. Earlier than 1972, the explanation we didn’t have very many ladies docs and attorneys [was that] they saved the ratio so unhealthy. I bear in mind as a youthful lady saying, “Why don’t now we have extra attorneys and docs as girls and different professions as effectively?” No CEOs, no nothing. I didn’t perceive that on the time, and it’s simply superb to assume that our main academic establishments on this nation had a 5 % quota. That’s stunning.

Burk: I wish to transfer to a different very nice space of your activism as a result of you might have, once more, completed greater than nearly any athlete to open doorways for homosexual individuals. You didn’t have the luxurious of popping out by yourself schedule, and whenever you have been outed, you misplaced over two million {dollars} in long-term contracts inside 24 hours. How did you combat again from that?

King: Oh, it’s been an extended wrestle. I wasn’t snug in my very own pores and skin till most likely the age of 51, and I’m 68 now. So, it’s been most likely my longest and most tough wrestle as a result of I grew up in a homophobic household. My household’s very loving, however they by no means actually needed to cope with it. I used to be all the time afraid. I’ve had a variety of psychotherapy, which has been actually useful. One factor that the therapist mentioned [was], “Billie, do you understand you’ve given all of your energy to your dad and mom?” In that second, I believed, “Properly, at 51 I feel it’s time that I take my energy again.” So, I thank her every single day. She empowered me in that second. Clearly, I used to be prepared to listen to her. 

I simply began to be free and began to not measure my phrases with my mother and pop and have the ability to speak about my companion Ilana and say, “Oh, we’re going right here. We’re going there, you realize, or we love one another,” or no matter. I simply talked to her like I used to speak about Larry once I was married to a male, and it’s actually, it’s superb how the reality does set you free. There are penalties to the whole lot although, however I’ve discovered that with tennis. Each ball that involves me, I’ve to decide, and I’ve to dwell with the results, and I preserve attempting to all the time right errors. I don’t actually speak about failures. After I lose a degree, I acquire suggestions from it. It’s the identical manner with our experiences in life. When individuals have a look at it as suggestions and never failure, it begins to provide a way of freedom of simply utilizing it and getting higher from it.

Burk: The work you might have completed clearly paved the way in which for the acceptance we’re seeing now of homosexual and lesbians people. Simply have a look at what occurred to you. You misplaced two million {dollars}. Now, Ellen DeGeneres is on tv touting JCPenney, and so they’re welcoming her. They need her to promote their merchandise.

King: I find it irresistible. I really like seeing that every single day. I find it irresistible when individuals win and could be the most effective they are often and be free. What I do now with my life is World TeamTennis, and for those who watch a World TeamTennis match, you see my philosophy on life. We’ve equal quantities of women and men, equal contribution by each genders on a degree enjoying subject. If a younger boy comes out to observe, he sees women and men cooperating. He sees women and men in supportive and management roles, which change throughout the match on a regular basis. It’s superb whenever you put women and men on the identical staff and in direction of the identical goal. It’s similar to having males’s groups or girls’s groups attempting to have an goal, however you set them collectively and it’s an ideal socialization imaginative and prescient for kids.

Burk: There’s lengthy been a saying within the girls’s motion, “You may’t be a factor till you may think about it.”

King: Proper. You must see it to be it. I inform youngsters that on a regular basis, for those who see women and men cooperating, you assume that’s regular. Let’s simply assist one another, and generally, the male might be in management or the lady might be in a management function, and everybody simply retains transferring. It’s only a non-issue, and we’ve acquired to make all these various things, whether or not you’re homosexual or no matter, it needs to be simply non-issue.

Burk: I feel we’re transferring that manner, however there’s all the time a backlash towards Title IX. There are all the time going to be backlashes, and we simply must preserve pushing. Talking of that, I wish to speak about your work with america Tennis Affiliation since you have been on Capitol Hill speaking about that work a month or so in the past. What are you doing with them to develop alternatives?

King: Properly, they actually signed me to speak about groups as a result of that’s actually my legacy—teamwork. Inside tennis, now we have, in addition to World TeamTennis, an expert league with women and men on it. We’ve leisure leagues, league play from 8 to 88 years of age and past. We’ve junior staff tennis. That’s my legacy, and so they understand it. So, they assume that’s an excellent match. I feel the Ladies’s Sports activities Basis was truly very a lot forward of its time. We had Donna de Varona as our first president.

Burk: The place would you wish to see sports activities—significantly girls’s sports activities—10 years from now?

King: Till we really have skilled alternatives for ladies to dream, tennis, girls’s tennis is the primary sport globally, and we’re very lucky due to that one-dollar contract we signed in 1970, it was the start of that, and the explanation that got here collectively is we had a sponsor. We had Gladys Heldman, the promoter, and also you had 9 girls who have been prepared to cross the road within the sand, and the celebs have been in alignment. 

We want girls to help girls’s sports activities, particularly Title IX infants. Ladies who went to school on a sports activities scholarship needs to be completely attempting to determine the best way to all the time assist with season tickets. It’s been more durable on us as a result of we by no means had the earnings. We’re nonetheless at 77 cents on the greenback, which isn’t good. A number of occasions as a single mom elevating her kids, clearly she’s having to boost them with much less cash. It’s a problem. So, we have to get girls’s pay to be equal. However we’d like girls to know that “You bought to see it to be it,” such as you mentioned, Martha. Ladies athletes are very inspirational.

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