Billie Jean King relives ‘Battle of the Sexes’ on PBS

  • By Luaine Lee McClatchy-Tribune News Service
  • Thursday, August 29, 2013 6:45pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

It was dubbed “The Battle of the Sexes” when Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs challenged each other to a wrenching game of tennis in 1973.

And while the cameras reveled in the opportunity, to King it was more than a media event. It was a mission.

“When I played Bobby Riggs, we were on the third year of women’s professional tennis. It was such a tenuous position,” King said. “We were labeled … ‘women libbers’ … I mean, it was so difficult.”

How difficult and how revolutionary her mission became will be illuminated when PBS’s “American Masters” airs “Billie Jean King” at 9 p.m. Tuesday.

While the nation cheered the male-female contest, King found it an ordeal. “It was not fun. Also I knew the implications. I knew what it stood for. It was very symbolic of the women’s movement and what we were trying to do.

“Title IX had just been passed the year before … So I wanted to start to change the hearts and minds of people to match up the legislation of Title IX, ” she said.

Title IX banned sex discrimination in any arena involving federal funding. “In those days, I knew it took three generations to change people’s hearts and minds,” she said.

“Back in 1973, I mean, a woman could not even get a credit card without her husband’s signing,” said King, who’ll be 70 on Nov. 22.

“You have to remember, when I played Bobby Riggs, there wasn’t one woman, not one woman sports reporter. Not one. And thank God I got along great with the guys.

“In fact, every press conference I always say, ‘OK, before we start, what is feminist? What does a feminist mean to you?’ And they go, ‘Oh, I don’t know.’”

“So I said, ‘I want you to be clear on what my meaning of it is. It’s choice, it means equal, equality for boys and girls. That’s what it means to me.’”

King was not only facing prejudice on the court, she was facing it in life. Ten years after her joust with Riggs (which she won) she faced an even greater challenge when it was revealed that she was gay.

Typically, King took the offensive and called a news conference to announce her sexual orientation. “I was outed,” she said. “My lawyer, Dennis Wasser, and my publicist, Pat Kingsley, thought I shouldn’t do it. I said, ‘I have to. I have to tell the truth,’”

So how does she see the athletes in tennis today? “I would love to be able to hit a forehand like they do, or a backhand. First of all, their bodies are so much more dynamic and free.

“And I could just be much more myself today.”

More in Life

‘Found’: Author and climber a 20-year veteran of mountain rescue

In her second book, Bree Loewen shares her experiences of volunteering with Seattle Mountain Rescue.

Secret garden: Privacy trees that won’t outgrow a small space

These plants offer some height to block out unwanted sights without taking over your yard.

Stock your winter bookshelf with these animal and nature reads

Four new books cover outdoors topics from butterflies to wolves.

The Shed Players recently released their new album “Our Shingle Most Favorites.”
Listen here: Josh Clauson, The Shed Players release new CDs

This feature is all about Snohomish County’s homegrown talent: locals who make music and record it.

Newfangled cooker isn’t for those with tried and true methods

Columnist Jennifer Bardsley recently succumbed to peer pressure and purchased an Instant Pot.

Now is the time to assess your student’s back-to-school plan

Take a good look at how your kids are managing their new routine, class, teacher(s) and homework.

Author’s talk of birds and clouds kicks off Marysville series

1. Birds and clouds Marysville’s Outdoor Adventure Speakers Series is kicking into… Continue reading

How to shop in the street markets of France

It’s the best way to connect with the nation’s farmers and artisans.

Oprah Winfrey joins ‘60 Minutes’ for 50th anniversary year

The media giant debuts on tonight’s show, reporting on a story about America’s political divisions.

Most Read