Monday, March 18, 2019

Billie Jean King: No Topic Required

It's not everyday that one can hear one a woman who was named one of the “100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century” by Life magazine, 2009 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the namesake of the United States' Tennis National Tennis Center speak. But later today, March 19, I will head to the University of San Francisco with 10 other female coaches to listen to the human rights icon and tennis legend Billie Jean King, as part of their Silk Speaker Series
My mom asked me what she will speak about. I paused for a moment, running the event information through my head, trying to recall what I read. I didn't make up an answer. I simply said, given who she is and what she has accomplished, does she really need a specific topic? I hope we agree: the answer is "no." If you're not sure read more.
Billie Jean King grew up playing tennis in the California public parks and won 39 Grand Slam titles during her career. She helped form the Virginia Slims Series and founded the Women’s Tennis Association. She defeated Bobby Riggs in one of the greatest moments in sports history – the Battle of the Sexes on Sept. 20, 1973. In 2017, Fox Searchlight released the critically acclaimed film, Battle of the Sexes, which depicts the cultural and social impact of the groundbreaking match between King and Bobby Riggs in 1973. 
King is the founder of the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative, the co-founder of World Team Tennis, and part of the ownership group of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Los Angeles Sparks. She founded the Women’s Sports Foundation and the Women’s Tennis Association. In August 2006, the National Tennis Center, home of the US Open, was renamed the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in honor of her accomplishments on and off the court.  In 2018 King received a Lifetime Achievement Award as part of the prestigious BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards. King serves on the board of the Women’s Sports Foundation and is a past member of the board of the Elton John AIDS Foundation and a past member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition. 
Without BJK, professional sports for women would not be where they are today. She was a pioneer in her advocation for equality of opportunity, compensation and attention of female athletics. Perhaps she will speak about what it was like to participate in a sport that had no professional opportunities for women when she first started to play. Maybe she will address  the responsibility she believes women like her carry—knowing how things were and have far we have come. 

As many people know, March 8 was International Women's Day. I hope folks also know that all of March is celebrated as Women's History Month. If she would like to talk about what that means to her, wonderful. If she decides to speak on where female athletics ought to go, even better. She had a vision long before others did of what can and should be. American men and women should be proud of her achievements and efforts—past and present. Oh, and 39 Grand Slam titles?! #Baller. Let's talk doubles' strategy! Let's discuss favorite playing partners for mixed and women's....And who are her favorite players to watch today? Did she coach? Did she have one? 
I am certain that I will write a post-script to this blog, but for now, I'd like to get everyone ready for the evening, I have shared the following trivia questions with my colleagues. NB: I have removed trivia questions that pertain to our school/photos are still there. Good luck.
  1. Billie Jean King and Bobbie Riggs’ “Battle of the Sexes” occurred in what year? Where? Who won!

  2. Venus Williams fought for equal pay at Wimbledon. In what year did the women finally earn the same prize money as the men at this historic Grand Slam?

  3. Where is the USTA National Tennis Center located?

  4. Can you name another female athlete who has won the Presidential Medal of Freedom?

  5. This picture profiles BJK when she won her first Grand Slam title. What tourney? What year?

  6. The player—front row, right side—lists tennis as her “first love of sport.” Who is she?
The real question I would like to ask in preparation for this talk cannot be captured by any singular photo. I love trivia, but this question is far beyond that. My question: Imagine a world without professional female athletes. Thanks to Billie Jean King, you don't have to. More to come!
Photo Credits
Speaker shot

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