One of most successful and influential female tennis players in American history, Billie Jean King was a pioneer for equal athletic opportunities for women and one of the earliest supporters of Title IX—which celebrates its 40th birthday today. King, who famously beat Bobby Riggs in their 1973 Battle of The Sexes, won 12 Grand Slam singles titles in her career. She spoke at the premiere of Sporting Chance about the impact of Title IX on her life, her motivation for playing Riggs, and the grueling nature of pro tennis today.
You grew up in an era without Title IX. What disadvantages did you face?
In the '60s, I went to California State College. I worked two jobs, and I was fortunate to have those, and I thought I was living large. But just 30 miles away, [future world No. 1] Arthur Ashe had a scholarship to UCLA, and Stan Smith, who became No. 1 as well, had a full scholarship to USC.
How were you involved in the passage of Title IX?
I started hearing rumblings in the early '70s about Title IX, and then I did go and testify and try to help push it through. And it was really important that I beat Bobby Riggs the year after, because I knew that wasn't just a tennis match, it was about social change. And we'd just started the women's professional tour [in 1974]. So all of these things were happening at the same time.
Did Title IX factor into your decision to play Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes?