Billie Jean King, tennis queen

A new documentary chronicles the tennis player's fight for equal rights.


Rebecca Traister
April 24, 2006 9:30PM (UTC)

There have been a couple of anticipatory pieces this weekend about an upcoming HBO documentary, "Billie Jean King: Portrait of a Pioneer," set to air this Wednesday. The hourlong program will chronicle the life and career of King, 62, who fought for equal pay and opportunity for female athletes in the 1970s.

Colleagues and former adversaries like Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert are interviewed in the documentary, and Evert is quoted as saying, "She really did mentor myself and later on Martina to become the leaders ... That was such a period when women's sports and women's tennis was being defined. It had gone up so many notches because of her in terms of credibility, publicity and exposure."

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In 1973, King famously played played male tennis star Bobby Riggs in front of 30,000 people in the Astrodome and 90 million on worldwide television, beating Riggs in straight sets. She says that she is still approached by men about that match. She calls them "the first generation of men in the women's movement," and reports that when they talk to her about it, "they have tears in their eyes, they're in their late 40s and 50s. 'I was really young when I watched your match, I have a daughter now. I cannot tell you how that changed my life and how I raise my daughter.'"


Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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