Billy Jean King Commemorates Title IX’s 35th Anniversary

Men and women need to walk hand-in-hand, side by side, said former world number one female tennis player and current women’s rights advocate Billy Jean King in an interview with La Doris Cordell. The interview, held recently at Maples Pavilion, was meant to commemorate the 35th anniversary of Title IX.

Title IX stipulates that no person can be discriminated against in any program receiving federal funds simply on the basis of sex. While the legislation affects a variety of programs, its most pronounced impact has been on college athletics. The legislation requires that the percentage of male and female athletes match the ratio of men and women enrolled. The passing of Title IX in 1972 dramatically increased women’s participation in college athletics. In 1971, fewer than 30,000 college women played sports. In 2001, the number had increased to 150,000.
Many consider Title IX one of the most controversial pieces of equal rights’ legislation because it indirectly restricts funding for men’s sports. Because Title IX requires schools to provide equal funding to both men’s and women’s sports, many colleges have had to cut men’s programs to provide funding for women.

Addressing the complaint that Title IX is causing a decline in men’s sports, King responded that “men need to share.” She suggested that schools reduce the size of football teams and scholarships to maintain other men’s programs. She also noted that both men’s and women’s programs have been cut because of declining popularity.

Cordell, Stanford’s Title IX Compliance Officer and Special Counselor to President Hennessy, also asked King to address the recent clarification of Prong Three of Title IX, which stipulates that a school is in compliance if it “is fully and effectively accommodating the interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex.” The clarification allows institutions to use web-based surveys to demonstrate insufficient interest. King called the clarification “ludicrous,” suggesting that most females will not take the time to complete the surveys.

The program also recapped King’s struggles as a female professional tennis player before the equal rights movement. Though King was one of the top American female players as a teenager, she attended Cal State Los Angeles because her parents could not afford USC or Stanford. Even at Cal State LA, King had to work two jobs to pay her way through school. Scholarships, which King called “contracts,” were not available to female athletes.

Prize money for women was also limited. When King won three titles at Wimbledon in 1967 (singles, doubles, and mixed doubles), she recalled receiving only a 45 pound gift voucher. When her professional male tennis friends later formed their own association (the Association of Tennis Professionals), they excluded women. King then teamed up with the game’s top women players and formed the “$1 contract,” which officially launched the Women’s Tennis Association.

Pivotal in the women’s rights movement was King’s victory over men’s tennis star Bobby Riggs in the infamous “Battle of the Sexes.” 90 million people around the world tuned into the match, which came on the heels of Title IX.

“I thought that it was vital that I win to match the hearts and minds of Title IX legislation,” said King.

Cordell also asked King about her abortion early in her marriage to Larry King. Billy Jean King called the process to obtain approval for her abortion “degrading.” When asked about the Supreme Court’s recent upholding of the partial birth abortion ban, however, she expressed ambivalence.

“Personally, I would have to have an abortion within the first 3 months or I wouldn’t feel right about it,” said King. “But I will never make a judgment about another woman because of the 15 year old who was raped sitting next to me [in the clinic].”

King also addressed her “coming out” as a lesbian. After the news hit the press, she said she lost all of her money in endorsements. Because her family was homophobic, she also had trouble confessing her sexuality to her parents. To cope with her family and personal struggles, she enrolled in psychotherapy.

“Part of life I was straight, then bisexual, now I’m a lesbian,” said King. “I feel like I have compassion for everyone.”

When asked whether she would consider running for public office, King said that she might if she were younger. She also formally endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, the first candidate she has endorsed for a political office.

“I think she’s earned it, more than earned it,” said King. “I’ve forgotten what a softee she really is.”

But when asked what she thought about President Bush, King gave what many might consider a surprising answer for a staunch feminist.

“I’m big on respecting the President,” said King. “He’s very black and white in his thinking. I don’t agree with him on a lot of things, but I respect him. I’ve seen him with a lot of people crying outside his office…I don’t like it when people are disrespectful to the President, because I don’t think anybody until they’re president can understand how tough it is.”
King concluded the interview by suggesting ad hoc that Stanford share its wealth and endowment with junior colleges and technical schools. She also called the audience to both go out and vote and to make a difference in the world.

“Down the road, are you going to be happy with yourself and what your journey has been?” King asked. “No matter what age you are or shape you’re in, you do make a difference, if only to yourself.”

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