I had the great honor of attending a lunch time talk at The Fund for Women and Girls by none other than Billie Jean King. The Fund is dedicated to improving the health and economic security of women and girls. I was among about 800 people there, mostly women. Previous speakers at the annual luncheon included Maya Angelou and the first woman Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright.
Of course Billie talked about the event that catapulted her to worldwide fame, the Battle of the Sexes. For those of you who weren’t born yet, the Battle of the Sexes refers to a 1973 tennis match between men’s great Bobby Riggs and women’s champion, Billie Jean King. Long story short, Bobby Riggs acted arrogant, said mean things, and was generally against women’s tennis (and equal payouts for male and female players). Well, Billie handed his ass to him in three sets, securing a $100,000 prize. The match was highly anticipated and over 90 million people watched it all over the world.
But, as I learned, there is much more to Billie Jean King than tennis matches. Though she didn’t emphasize it, I sat in the audience and noticed there was a consistent theme in her life. From saving up money from odd jobs for neighbors in order to buy her first tennis racquet at eight years old, to becoming the top woman tennis player in the world, I sensed an amazing determination in her.
One of the more interesting anecdotes Billie relayed was the origin story of Elton John’s song “Philadelphia Freedom.” She and Elton John had each come to a party wearing wild glasses, became fascinated with each other, and the rest is music history.
There was a touch of sadness, too. Billie talked about how she didn’t feel comfortable coming out of the closet until she reached her 50s — and her parents’ homophobia played a large part in that.
The whole experience was inspiring; knowing that there are professional women out there who want to set good examples for young women. I think young women and young girls today need to know that they can do so much more — they can do it ALL — if they want, and nothing can get in their way.