Google Down the Line!: Billie Jean King speaks out on Dubai controversy, discusses coming out in tennis

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Billie Jean King speaks out on Dubai controversy, discusses coming out in tennis

Billie Jean King has spoken out against the United Arab Emirate's decision to deny Shahar Peer a visa and hopes the WTA will take appropriate actions against the Dubai tourney:

The United Arab Emirates' refusal to grant a visa to Shahar Peer and preventing her from competing at this week's Sony Ericsson WTA Tour in Dubai is shameful and definitely a step backwards.

In the 21st century there is no reason a person should be restricted from doing his or her job because of their nationality, creed, race, gender or sexual orientation.

Given the progress we have made in providing equal rights and opportunities for all, I trust the WTA Tour will look closely at the events in Dubai and take every step possible to ensure this type of distraction never happens again.
I think more than a few of us were waiting to hear what the tennis pioneer had to say and it's exactly what I was expecting.

In other BJK news, the 12-time Grand Slammer recently sat down with James Larosa for an insightful Q&A on to discuss her coming out as a lesbian almost 3 decades ago:
James LaRosa: What were your emotions back then, after having just been outed?
Billie Jean King: I felt very violated. I felt blackmailed. And yet I want to tell the truth. I argued with my publicist and my lawyer for two days so I could do that press conference. They didn't want me to do it, but I was insistent. I did the right thing. It's better to tell the truth.

Within 24 hours I lost all my future income. I was just getting ready to leave the game. And I had all these wonderful contracts happening. And I was finally going to make some money. Because my generation didn't make any of the big bucks the way the next generation did. It was really an important time for me to have my financial security, and that wasn't going to happen.

I think all that helped though. I think every time somebody comes out, it just pushes us forward. It's harder for people once they know you. They have a harder time thinking it's wrong.

What was the reaction in the locker room?
The straight players were great. Chris [Evert] was fantastic. Nobody cared. They were very supportive. Life went on. I thought that showed a lot of compassion. To this day, nobody talks about it on the tour. Nobody cares.

The great thing with Mauresmo is that she was able to keep most of her endorsements. You can get a lot of applause from Madison Avenue but the next day you go in to get an endorsement, and they say, “sorry, we can't do it.” Applause is nice, but it doesn't feed you. You can't eat it.,
She was also asked about the difference in reactions to Amelie Mauresmo's coming out 10 years ago at the Aussie Open compared to her own personal experience:
Her reception was also a bit different than yours.
I thought the French were fantastic towards her. In fact, I think she went up in popularity after the announcement.

No person should be discounted by their sexuality or any other reason. You just don't do that to other human beings. We're all human. And it's very important we treat each other the way we want to be treated. That's been my whole life since I was a 12-year-old – my epiphany. I'd always fight for equal rights and opportunities for boys and girls.

What I ended up doing was having to help women more because we got shut out. I went to the men when they were forming the ATP and I said, “you're going to have the girls, aren't you?” And they said no. So that's the reason we started women's professional tennis. It wasn't because that's what I wanted. I wanted us all to be together and have one voice as a sport. Which I think would've made us more powerful. I think it's going to happen before I die.

I guess it fits my personality and my epiphany that [being outed] happened to me. You have to have a lot of firsts in life, but the first "galimony?” (laughs). It's one of my claims to fame. God had plans, I'll just go with them. The LGBT community is very important to me. If I've helped in a very small way, I'm very happy about that.

What's the biggest difference you see today compared to 1981? Or even 1999, when Amelie came out?
I lost endorsements before. Because I'm gay, I get endorsements now. I had three commercials this last year. I'm 64. If you're an older women you don't get any endorsements. Unless it's Depends (laughs). The [gay] community is more powerful. More people are out, they're making things happen.
Larosa ends by asking about the possibility of a gay male baller coming out:
What's it going to take for a gay male player to come out?
We're never going to be 50 percent of the population. We need straight people, particularly in the male arena, to support the gay guys. They have to. And if they stand up for us, that's how we gain acceptance. We need our friends, or brothers and sisters, especially if they have influence. Federer and Nadal and those guys have to say we don't care. Once the influence starts to talk like that, it makes a huge difference.

It's got to be the top players. [They] influence where the tour goes. That's part of the responsibility of being in the Top 10, the Top 5 in the world. That goes hand in hand with making the big bucks, getting the most exposure, getting the most endorsements. That's part of the deal, I think, if you're going to be in that position. And our job in that position is to stick up for whoever is getting a bad deal.

It wouldn't hurt if the gay player was the top player.
I wish we could get a guy at the top of his game just saying I'm gay, let's move on, next. But it's got to be while he's playing. While he's at the top of his game. But they're going to take a lot of heat, man.

The first is always a breakthrough. There's always a shift when that happens. It's a little bit like an earthquake in a way. But it's not going to be as big an earthquake today as it would've been years ago. What the seismic equation is, I don't know.

As time keeps moving forward, it will be easier than it was five years ago, 10 years ago, 15 years ago, and then for all the different people before. We stand on their shoulders. And you want the kids to stand on yours.
Ah yes. My thoughts exactly. I've always thought the only way the attitudes about gay people would start to truly change in the world is if high-profile, popular, actively-playing athletes, particularly male, came out at the height of their careers. Many women have faced the music and survived but not a single man. The idea of a gay man in the locker room seems to have deeper implications and causes the most discomfort with the public - so that's where we need to go. But who has the courage to take the step? I wonder.

Sports has always been at the forefront of breaking down barriers of all kinds and this is no exception.

(image via Getty)


  1. when i first saw this bjk interview, sent it around to "everyone", cos it's so cool.

  2. Wholeheartedly agree. I don't get the fuzz and lack of understanding by some squares anyway.

    So people are gay - what else is new? Last time I checked, we were in the 21st century...


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