As the movie “Battle of the Sexes” hits selected theaters Friday before a national release on Sept. 29, we got some one-on-one time with Billie Jean King to ask about the emotions she’s feeling seeing herself on the big screen as portrayed by Oscar-winner Emma Stone.
In addition to the Q&A posted online, we also have these outtakes:
Q: It’s been announced by 21st Century Fox that it will donate 79 cents for every dollar it brings in for the movie’s opening week to the Women’s Sports Foundation you started in 1974. The 79 cents represents how much women make compared to every dollar a man makes, according to the data. How does that make you feel?
A: It’s so meaningful. I think woman should only work 79 percent of the year (laughing). Think about it, we have to work a year plus into April the next year to get equal pay. Something has to stop and something has to start …
Q: What has to change?
A: You don’t want to disrupt anything if you can. You just want to make things better. It’s a tightrope trying to get everyone’s hearts and minds to match up without alienating anyone. Once you alienate, they go away. It’s very difficult thing. You do as much behind the scenes as you can before you go to the media, which is an absolute last resort. It’s not fun. You just want everyone to do the right thing.
Q: The film does a great job explaining how Margaret Court really had the first “Battle of the Sexes” against Riggs, on Mother’s Day that same year of 1973, in San Diego, on national TV. He soundly defeated her. If the result has been switched and she had won, would your “Battle of the Sexes” match even happen or would it have killed Riggs’ momentum?
A: Oh, it could have killed everything. And Title IX had just been passed. Bobby had been following me for two years to play him, and I kept saying ‘no’ so then he went to Chris (Evert) and Margaret and Nancy (Richey) … ‘Who wants to play me? $35,000?’ He had a plan to play Chris for $1 million after he beat me. When Margaret told me in an elevator in Detroit she was going to play Bobby, I said: ‘Margaret, this is not a tennis match.’ I’m not sure how much she understood the context. And remember, she’s Australian. I said, ‘Margaret, this is really about ….’
But she’s the one player who loved money more than anybody. She wouldn’t tell you that. She always complained about the lack of money we made when we started (the WTA) and we were ostracized by many other (women) players in the beginning. Only about 16 of us stayed together and the others were pointing fingers at us. Ostracized by them and the establishment. It was not a fun time. It was a lonely time for a lot of us.
Q: The LBGTQ community has people like you and Martina Navratilova and others as someone to look up to. There are many famous tennis players, women, who have come out. For some reason, it’s not so much the same with the men. Why do you think that still is?
A: I can tell that when we played, the women were always asked about their sexuality and the men never were. Right there it was far more secretive. They didn’t have to face the barrage of questions about it.
It’s the last bastion of machismo. It just scares the death of some of them, how they’ll be treated by their fellow players. Being your authentic self is really difficult when it’s so shame-based. It still is. The LBGTQ community suffers a lot. The younger kids have a 40 percent higher suicide rate than any group. That’s why it’s so important to embrace everyone. You want to people to be their authentic self. It’s so important we encourage that. Then you’ll hear straight people come up and you tell them you’re gay and they’re like, ‘Oh, I knew that.’ Well, then, why didn’t you say it and ask me (before)? That would have helped a lot.’ Those are the ways we can help each other.
Q: Language and identification is important as well with the LGBTQ community. How do you roll with the evolution of the latest gender identification changes?
A: If you talk to the young people, for example, I notice they like being called ‘queer’ and they embrace it. That was such a derogatory term toward us in the old days. We have to come to grips with that. If a younger person wants to be called queer, that’s fine with me. I don’t care. As long as it works for them. We need to be aware of what’s coming up, the younger ones, what they’re sensing. The millennials and Gen Z are the best generations in the history of our world to be inclusive. I have a lot of hope because of that. They really are wonderful.
== Billie Jean King on Twitter
== “Battle of the Sexes” official website and Twitter stream
== King talks about her favorite teachers at Los Cerritos Elementary, Hughes Middle School and Long Beach Poly High
== A Long Beach Press Telegram profile of Kings’ Long Beach roots from 2014
== Her page at the International Tennis Hall of Fame website.
== Did Bobby Riggs rig the outcome to pay off mob debts? ESPN presented its evidence in a story in 2013
== The Hollywood Reporter talks to the crew.
== King has been promoting a new T-shirt that has come out commemorating the “Battle of the Sexes” event. It is available here.
== HBO announced Tuesday it would re-air its 2006 documentary “Billie Jean King: Portrait of a Pioneer” on Wednesday at 9 p.m. on the HBO2 service.