Billie Jean King a Queen of Women's Rights

By Tv, Brad Oswald Watching | Winnipeg Free Press, September 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Billie Jean King a Queen of Women's Rights


Tv, Brad Oswald Watching, Winnipeg Free Press


Tennis star transcended sports, worked tirelessly for equality

For 27 years, the PBS series American Masters has presented documentary profiles of artists and entertainers, cultural icons and institutions. To date, more than 190 films have been produced under the American Masters title.

This week, for the first time, the series adds a sports figure to its roster. And fittingly, the subject is an athlete whose accomplishments far transcend the sport in which she gained fame and amassed a fortune.

Billie Jean King, which airs tonight at 7 p.m. on Prairie Public TV, is a fascinating 90-minute documentary that examines the career and life of a woman who recognized at a very young age that success as an athlete would provide an opportunity to be a catalyst for cultural change.

The winner of 39 Grand Slam tennis titles, the co-founder of the Virginia Slims Series tour (a precursor to the current WTA tour), the first female pro athlete to earn more than $100,000 in a year and a tireless supporter of both women's rights and gay rights initiatives, King is -- for better and worse -- probably best remembered by most as the female tennis pro who took on self-proclaimed male chauvinist pig Bobby Riggs in the 1973 exhibition match dubbed "The Battle of the Sexes."

When she met with TV critics recently during PBS's portion of the U.S. networks' semi-annual press tour in Los Angeles, King said the relentlessly hyped tennis showdown -- largely the product of Riggs having created a second career for himself as a feminism buster long after his best tennis-playing years were behind him -- was a match she had tried to avoid playing for at least a couple of years.

"I definitely did not want to play Bobby," she recalled. "He followed me around for two or three years, but when he played Margaret (Court) and she lost badly, I had to play him. I was worried about Title IX (U.S. equal-rights legislation). I was worried about our tour. I was worried about a lot of things, and I was worried about perception, and I had to play him. …

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