(L-R) Naomi Osaka, Billie Jean King and Serena Williams pose for a photo before the women’s singles final at the US Open 2018 on September 8, 2018 in New York.
Although King remains active and influential in her advocacy, her voice has been particularly sought after this year as the country commemorates the anniversary of Title IX.
Speaking at Springfield (Massachusetts) College’s commencement ceremony last month, King recalled being at the Los Angeles tennis club growing up and seeing all the white faces.
“I thought, ‘Where are the others?’ “recalls King. “I already knew at the time that I was a second-class citizen. I knew my colored sisters had worse than the others.
“But I thought to myself, ‘You know, tennis is global. Maybe I have the opportunity to make the world a better place. This was my awakening to social justice, and it paved the way for the rest. of my life fighting for equality.
King told the audience that she was a big fan of history.
“Every person is an influencer, and so many times we forget that,” she said. “Each of you is an influencer and you make history every day. The more you know about history, the more you know about yourself.
Noting the Title IX anniversary, King cited a discussion she had in 2007 with former Indiana Senator Birch Bayh, one of the architects of the law. He told King that they almost omitted the word “activity” from the final text.
“Without that word ‘activity,’ women wouldn’t have athletic scholarships,” King said. “Sport is not mentioned at all.”
King then talked about what it was like to be a female varsity athlete in the 1960s.
“I was a student-athlete before Title IX,” said King, then attending Los Angeles State College (now California State University, Los Angeles). “I had two jobs to help me deal with the financial burden of college and I thought I was living well.
“Twenty miles away, Arthur Ashe had full scholarships at UCLA and Stan Smith had full scholarships at the University of Southern California. All three of us became the No. 1 tennis players in the world.
However, this division of scholarships between men and women would not hold.
“When Title IX was enacted on June 23, 1972, all of that finally began to change,” King said. “But we had a long way to go.”
King noted that as a queer woman, she did not feel comfortable in her skin until she was 51.
“You never truly understand inclusion until you’ve been excluded,” King said. “So don’t let others define you because, believe me, they will try. But don’t dare let them define you. You define yourself in your life.
At a Title IX anniversary event held earlier this month at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., King spoke via video conference and outlined the battles ahead.
“Title IX is still in a precarious position, so don’t take it for granted,” King said, according to NFL.com. “That’s why every generation is important, and that’s what has helped white suburban girls the most.
“So we have to, over the next 50 years, really, really step it up for girls of color, girls with disabilities, trans athletes, (the) LGBTQ+ community. These are the things we have to worry about if we are going to do the right thing in the next 50 years.