By Leighton Ginn
Billie Jean King’s life work has been fighting for equality, so if Hillary Clinton is elected the first female President of the United States, it will carry a much deeper meaning for the all-time great tennis champion.
“It would complete a circle for me,” King said Friday in Palm Desert, Calif. “I’ve wanted a woman president, so long as she was qualified.
“I’ve almost made myself sick over it. I know there’s other people like me, men and women, who have been quiet. But we’ve been texting. When we get together, we get excited. It would mean so much because I think if you can see it, you can be it.”
King has been an icon of the equal rights movement ever since her victory over Bobby Riggs in the 1973 tennis match dubbed as the Battle of the Sexes. There is a movie currently in production starring Emma Stone as King and Steve Carrell as Riggs to be released in 2017.
In addition, King was also one of the nine founders of women’s professional tennis when she helped start the Virginia Slims tour. The women broke away from the men, who were making 10 times more in prize money.
King’s legacy has been recognized with some of this country’s highest honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Life Magazine named King one of the “100 Most Influential Americans of the 20th Century.”
While King has seen as a champion for women, she feels that label is limiting. And she hopes that if Clinton is elected president, it will change perspectives.
“People try to put me and other women in ‘Oh, you help women.’ No, we help people. It drives me crazy because it discounts us, and it says we’re only for half the marketplace,” King said. “That’s one of the things I want to get across before I die, stop putting us that we’re just examples for women or girls. We care about all people and we’re leaders for all people like boys are leaders for all people.
“That’s what Hillary’s going to do. All of the sudden, there will be a whole different perception that will be normal. It will normalize the situation and that’s what’s important to me.”
This election season, Clinton has been in a tough campaign against Donald Trump.
During the primary elections, King said when it became apparent Clinton and Trump would win the nominations, she thought the campaign could turn into something like her Battle of the Sexes match against Bobby Riggs in 1973, which was seen by 90 million people worldwide.
“Hillary vs. The Donald totally reminded me of the Battle of the Sexes, that’s right on the money,” King said.
There was playful banter between King and Riggs during the promotion leading up to the event, which had Riggs wearing a “Sugar Daddy” jacket, and King presenting him a “chauvinist” pig.
The campaign between Trump and Clinton has been anything but friendly. It has been one of the most contentious elections ever. But King said she sees some similarities to the climate in this U.S. today and in 1973.
“The country was quite divided back in the 70s, and it is today, right now,” King said. “In the 70s, you had Vietnam, you had Watergate heating up, you had the women’s rights at its heights, you had Roe vs. Wade, you had all kinds of things happening.
“I think it’s almost like a repeat in some ways. If you live long enough, you see the repeats.”
King also supported Clinton during her 2008 presidential run. For this election, King has campaigned in New York, as well as Paris and England for Clinton.
If Clinton wins, King is intrigued at how it might change how children look at leaders, which started with President Barack Obama when he was elected in 2008.
“If you’re a 14-year-old, your frame of reference (of the President) will be a person of color in Obama and a woman when you go to vote in four years,” King said. “Think about what their frame of reference is compared to mine, where I will be 73 this month. I’ve only seen white men as Presidents of the United States until Obama. That is amazing. I was thinking, if I was 14-years old again, my frame of reference would be totally different.
“I think it’s great. It’s for the better. It’s about inclusion, it’s about equality, it’s about anyone can be President of the United States.”
Note: King was in Palm Desert for the Mylan World Team Tennis Rec League Nationals at Palm Valley Country Club. For more on World Team Tennis, visit their website http://www.wtt.com