(LR) Naomi Osaka, Billie Jean King and Serena Williams pose for a photo prior to the women’s singles finals at the 2018 US Open on Sept. 8, 2018 in New York.
While King remains active and influential in her advocacy, her voice has been particularly sought out this year as the country commemorates the anniversary of Title IX.
Speaking last month at the Springfield (Massachusetts) College commencement ceremony, King recalled being at the Los Angeles Tennis Club while growing up and seeing all the white faces.
“I asked myself, ‘Where’s everybody else?'” King recalled. “I already knew back then I was a second-class citizen. I knew my sisters of color had it worse than other people.
“But I thought, ‘You know, tennis is global. I have an opportunity to maybe make the world a better place. ‘ That was my social justice awakening, and it set the course for the rest of my life to fight for equality. “
King told the audience that she’s a huge fan of history.
“Every single person is an influencer, and so many times, we forget that,” she said. “Every one of you is an influencer, and you make history every single day. The more you know about history, the more you know about yourselves. “
Noting the Title IX anniversary, King mentioned a discussion she had in 2007 with former Sen. Birch Bayh of Indiana, one of the law’s architects. He told King that they had nearly omitted the word “activity” from the final text.
“Without that word ‘activity,’ women would not have athletic scholarships,” King said. “Sport is not mentioned at all.”
King then spoke about what it was like to be a female college athlete in the 1960s.
“I was a pre-Title IX student-athlete,” said King, who attended then Los Angeles State College (now California State University, Los Angeles). “I had two jobs to help me handle the financial burden of college, and I thought I was living large.
“Twenty miles down the road, Arthur Ashe had a full scholarship to UCLA, and Stan Smith had a full scholarship to University of Southern California. The three of us went on to become the No. 1 tennis players in the world. ”
That scholarship divide between men and women wouldn’t stand, however.
“When Title IX was passed June 23, 1972, all that started to finally change,” King said. “But we had a long way to go.”
King noted that as a gay woman, she didn’t feel comfortable in her own skin until age 51.
“You never really 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 you dare let them define you. You define yourself in your life. “
At an event celebrating the Title IX anniversary that was held earlier this month at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, King spoke by video conference and emphasized the battles still to come.
“Title IX is always in a tenuous position, so please don’t take it for granted,” King said, according to NFL.com. “That’s why every generation is important, and it’s helped suburban white girls the most.
“So, we need to, in the next 50 years, really, really step it up for girls of color, girls living with disabilities, trans athletes, (the) LGBTQ + community. These are the things we have to worry about if we’re going to do the right thing in the next 50 years. “