Q&A With Billie Jean King

Posted: Feb. 17, 2012

Tell us about when you were going to school and making a name for yourself in tennis. With male players on full-ride scholarships, how was your experience different?

I couldnt afford to go to Stanford or University Southern California. My dad said he would go get a loan, but I didnt want him going into debt to send me to a university.

I went to California State University Los Angeles because of the coach and one of the assistant professors who knew my dad said if Billie comes up to school the mens and womens teams practice together every day so she can hit against the boys and practice with them.

It worked out great! I was very lucky I had Dr. Joan Johnson as my coach and Scotty Deeds was the mens coach.

Scotty got me two jobs, including the only job I ever hatedI passed out equipment in a locker room. The other job was a playground director for an elementary school, which I loved because I love kids.

Looking back, Arthur Ashe was on scholarship at UCLA and Stan Smith at USC. They would arrive in England right before Wimbledon from the NCAA championships. I was always very excited for them and to find out how they had done. We didnt have the media opportunities in those days, so it wasnt something I would hear about or look up on the internet.

I later realized I was treated as a second class citizen. They were having a lot more fun. I realized things were going to have to change.

You were a face of Title IX when it was passed. What was your involvement and how does it feel to be a trailblazer?

What Edith Green, the congresswoman from Oregon started was incredible. She fought for equality in higher education.

Edith was at a meeting and someone said they are going to do something for the boys and she said, What about the girls? They hadnt even thought about making it equal for girls.

She started coming up with the idea of Title IX. It went through various phases, but eventually this piece of legislation came through.

She was frustrated because ultimately some things had been taken out of the bill and she was so upset she didnt even want to vote on it.

But the other person I adore is Senator Birch Bayh. He was very instrumental in getting it passed and convincing the old boys network to vote for it. He was strongly influenced by his mother and grandma and wife. He loved strong women.

Patsy Mink, the representative from Hawaii was also very involved. Her daughter Wendy came home from school one day and told her mom she was voted president of her class. Patsy was thrilled, but then her daughter said she isnt going to be the president because the teacher, who was a woman, told her that women could only be vice presidents.

After hearing that, Patsy was totally behind Title IX and wanted to get very involved.

Edith Green really came up with the original idea, so Im sorry Edith wasnt there when it passed because she was so angry.

I wish I had more time to work on Title IX. I really pushed it with the media and talked to senators and representatives, but it was at the height of my career and we were also trying to start womens professional tennis league, so I was a busy girl.

Plus, Bobby Riggs was following me around trying to get a match, so I was exhausted!

We are really fortunate to have it. We still have 1.5 million fewer opportunities than boys in high schools, but weve come a long way. It used to be 1 in 27 girls played sports in high school. Now its 1 in 3, so weve come a long way, but we are still small in the big picture.

What advice do you have for young girls and parents now?

We need to worry about health. We need to get them exercising. The Womens Sports Foundation has done enough research to know that if a girl doesnt exercise by 9 or 10-years-old, shes never going to.

Parents need to think about their kids health from before they are even born and really make it a part of their lives.

Organized sports teach so many life lessons. It teaches people how to get along, how to lead, how to be supportive. Sometimes you lose, but you keep going. It teaches how to stay present and totally engaged in the moment. Its invaluable for girls to be in sports.

World Team Tennis has men and women equally on the same team. Equal contribution from each player. If you watch World Team Tennis, youll understand my philosophy in life. Equality in everything we do.

One thing that I think is missing is more opportunities to play sports for free. Less pay to play leagues. I received all of my instruction free in public parks in Long Beach. My younger brother, who became a professional baseball player also had free lessons through little league or had a very nominal payment.

We have to make it available and we have to focus on safety. We need more mass sports and more kids playing social sports. Were missing out at the grassroots level.