Billie Jean King on past victories and upcoming fights

The more Billie Jean King talks about the past, the more excited she is about the future.

King, the 79-year-old tennis and gender equality champion, said she wants to see more investment in women’s sports. More teams. More tournaments. More female owners. More racial diversity, more data, more access and more opportunity.

She moved across the court from subject to subject, not content with celebrating the history she had made; She was too busy creating the form for tomorrow.

“Equivalent investment is the most important thing,” she said during a telephone interview from London while attending Wimbledon this year. “If I talked to a CEO, I would ask him, her, or anyone else, ‘Do you spend as much on women’s sports as on men’s sports?'” This is the magic question.

It always was.

This summer marks 50 years since the US Open awarded equal prize money to men and women, becoming the first of the four major tennis tournaments to offer it. King, who has won 39 major titles, made the feat possible thanks to her tireless drive and securing corporate sponsors behind the scenes.

On the eve of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup — which is set to showcase the rise of women’s soccer and the movement for equal pay, spearheaded by the US women’s national team — King’s influence continues to ripple through the sports ecosystem.

“She works just as hard today as she did 50 years ago,” said Stacy Allaster, CEO of the USA Tennis Professional Tennis Association. First female manager of the US Open, He said. “And she is very focused, I would say possessed. She continues to live by what she believes in: that sport is for social change, and it is not what you get, but what you give.”

King and her wife, Ilana Kloss, who is also her longtime business partner, They invested in six sports. in June, He was announce it Billie Jean King Projects He will help run the new six-team Women’s Ice Hockey League starting in January with Los Angeles Dodgers majority owner Mark Walter and his wife, Kimbra Walter.

“We think this is transformative, a sport that just doesn’t have the platform we think it needs,” said Kloss, 67, a former doubles champion from South Africa and CEO of BJK Enterprises.

Although she admitted that the road to creating a successful women’s hockey league was “a long one” (one filled with past failures), she praised Walters’ commitment to women’s sports. “This belief sends an incredible message to the rest of the investment community,” Kloss said.

Flashback to 1970 when, angered by King and eight other players, the men were earning more than eight times the prize money that the women were in a single tournament, they signed $1 contracts to form a women’s professional tennis tour. The women, known as the “Original Nine,” risked being banned by tennis officials, but the gambit worked. In 1973 at Wimbledon, King led players in a vote that led to the creation of what is now called the Women’s Tennis Association.

It was an exciting time for women’s sports. In 1972, Congress passed Title IX, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex in schools, thus leading to the creation of athletic programs that spawned a generation of female athletes. Against this background, King, the world number one, won the 1972 French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open singles titles.

In New York, she was furious at earning $10,000-$15,000 less than what US Open men’s champion Ili Nastas did. King recalled how she then met tournament director Bill Talbert in the referees’ cabin.

She turned her chair to face him in the cramped space, and said a fan poll showed a strong interest in women’s tennis. Then she revealed her ace: She’d secured a sponsor—Ban by Bristol Myers deodorant—to make up the difference in the total prize money. Equal prize money became official in 1973.

A few weeks after the 1973 US Open, King crushed former top seed Bobby Riggs in a battle of the sexes scene that catapulted gender equality onto the world stage.

“It’s hard to believe that 50 years have passed – Boenk!” said the king.

This year’s US Open, which begins Aug. 28, will celebrate the anniversary of equal prize money in multiple ways, including King posters, opening night tributes and a “stock lounge” on the site of the US Open in Flushing, which in 2006 was Renamed USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

When she is on her way to her office there, Allaster touches a sign with King’s motto: “Pressure is a privilege.”

Alastair, the former WTA president, said King was an “accessible leader”, not just for her, but for rookies and superstars alike. Alastair has called Venus Williams “the modern-day Billie Jean King” because she pressured Wimbledon officials – and by extension the French Open – to offer equal prize money to women.

King’s advocacy has long transcended tennis. It started Women’s Sports Foundation in 1974 to develop athletic opportunities for girls and women beyond Title IX. After she came out publicly for being gay in 1981 and lost many of her endorsements, she later became a gay rights activist.

Phaedra KnightThe World Rugby Hall of Fame player and former president of the Women’s Sports Foundation said King created an inclusive culture at the group. “Through her LGBTQ+ lens and courage, she has inspired so many other aisles, for people to work together,” Knight said in an interview.

Besides King’s encouragement for her as a black and queer woman, Knight said she appreciated how King taught her to engage with rugby officials to improve career prospects in the women’s game.

Angela Ruggiero, another former president and former Olympian ice hockey player, also followed King’s lessons. Co-founded Mathematical Creativity Lab, a market research company that uses analytics to understand digitally savvy sports fans. Her research shows that Fans of every gender respond to women’s sports. She has frequent brainstorming sessions with King, who never stops asking questions.

“We’re going back and forth on how to bring more capital into women’s sports,” said Ruggiero. “She’ll be on the edge of her seat, on fire. It’s just in her nature to be an agent of change.”

King said she secretly advised soccer player Julie Foudy and eight teammates in 1995 to stick to fair contracts and get the younger players behind them. The team won the 1996 Olympics and ignited the women’s soccer frenzy by winning the 1999 Women’s World Cup in front of 90,185 fans at the Rose Bowl.

Twenty years later, Megan Rapinoe led the American women to another World Cup victory, this time with the crowd chanting “Equal Pay.” In 2022, the women’s national team settled a gender discrimination lawsuit against the national federation for $24 million, pledging equal salaries and prize money.

Last month, Rapinoe spoke at a press conference about how the 2023 World Cup will be a game-changer for women’s sports, and showed that “Equality is actually good for business. “

The king laughed.

She said: “Every generation thinks they’re the first to say this – it’s so interesting to listen to them.” “I’m glad we’re on the same page trying to get things done.”

As always, capital is key. She and Kloss — who joined the celebrity ownership group of the National Women’s Soccer League’s Angel City Soccer Club in 2020 — were encouraged by Y.Michele Kang recently 35 million dollars to buy From the Washington Spirit of the University.

“We need more people to keep moving forward,” King said. “If you look at everything now, they’re billionaires. And then you look at the Middle East, that would be something else.”

At a news conference, King backed the WTA’s exploration of funding from Saudi Arabia, which had already bought professional golf by merging LIV Golf with the PGA Tour. Despite acknowledging the country’s discriminatory policies around women and homosexuality, she told reporters, “I don’t think you’re really going to change unless you participate.” She added that this is her opinion. “Maybe I’ll still go and try to talk to them,” she said.

Sharing has always been King’s life philosophy, along with knowing your history. She is not ready to finish writing it.

In November, King will turn 80.

“She really feels like she’s running out of time, and she just can’t get enough,” Kloss said.