As Billie Jean King walked onto the stage at Monday night’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the 68-year-old retired tennis star fist-bumped former track-and-field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
Ms. King and Ms. Joyner-Kersee joined the retired swimmer and sports commentator Summer Sanders and the golfer Cheyenne Woods, Tiger’s niece, at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts for the premiere of the NCAA’s documentary, Sporting Chance. The film focuses on the history and success of Title IX, a 1972 act that made gender discrimination in educational programs, including sports, illegal. The four women also participated in a panel discussion hosted by Tracy Wolfson of CBS Sports.
As she rushed off to prepare for the panel, The Observer caught up with Ms. King who told us about her experience going to college prior to the passing of Title IX. Ms. King went to California State University in L.A. because other schools were too expensive without financial aid.
“About 30 miles away, Arthur Ashe had a full scholarship to UCLA … and Stan Smith, who became number one, also had a full ride to USC. They’re my fellow players, same age. But because they’re a guy, they can get full scholarship. And because I was a girl, because of my gender, I couldn’t get a scholarship or get federal financial assistance,” she said.
Ms. King was in England for Wimbledon in June 1972 when she heard that the amendment had been passed. “I was ecstatic,” she said. “I was absolutely thrilled.” One year later, Ms. King showed everyone how to hit like a girl when she defeated tennis champion Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes.”
“The reason I wanted to win that match so badly was to start getting the hearts and minds of people to match up with Title IX. My match with Bobby Riggs was about social change. It wasn’t about a tennis match,” she said. But, you know, defeating the former number one tennis player in the world wasn’t so bad either.
Ms. Joyner-Kersee was a bit younger when the act was passed. In order to participate in sports, she initially had to join the cheerleading squad because her school did not offer track-and-field for girls. When her school began to open sports up to women, they had to practice late at night after the male teams were done with the gym.
“I got into track-and-field because I wasn’t good, and I really wanted to be good,” she said, leaving The Observer to ponder this three-time Olympic medalist’s definition of “good.”
She also emphasized the importance of educating the younger generation about Title IX through the documentary.
“It’s one thing you can bask in the glory, but also you have go to understand the struggles, the ups and downs that Title IX has gone through,” she said.
Talking about basking in the glory, the other two honored guests of the evening have had the opportunity to appreciate their older counterpart’s work in implementing Title IX. “There was never a question, and I’m so grateful there was never a question whether or not I could compete in college,” Ms. Sanders said.
Ms. Woods, who made her professional debut at the LPGA Championship earlier this month, also said she didn’t have any difficulty breaking into golf or in escaping Uncle Tiger’s shadow. “The pressure with having the last name Woods … is something that I grew up with, so I’m not too thrown off by it,” she said.
The now-retired gymnast Shawn Johnson, WNBA star Kim Hampton and president of the NCAA Dr. Mark Emmert also attended the premiere. The centerpiece of the evening, Sporting Chance, was sweet and inspirational, á la Remember the Titans, and sort of makes you want to take a stand against something. The Observer was thinking of fighting for the rare free food at our office. Maybe Coca-Cola would make a documentary about that, too.
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