Q&A: Billie Jean King on Title IX’s 50th anniversary


NEW YORK — Billie Jean King admired a portrait of Patsy Mink, considered the “Mother of Title IX,” at the U.S. Capitol on the 50th anniversary of Title IX.

“She knew exclusion firsthand and she had the confidence and leadership to challenge and change discrimination through the law,” King said at the portrait unveiling in Statuary Hall in Washington on Thursday.

Title IX, which bans sex discrimination in any education program or activity that receives federal funds, allowed more women into universities and expanded sports participation. There’s still work to do: 1.1 million more boys play sports in high school; women made up 44% of college athletes in 2021.

Donna Lopiano, a Title IX expert in more than 40 court cases and former women’s athletic director at Texas, says “90% of institutions are out of compliance” at the Division I level. Title IX requires equitable scholarships and sports roster spots based on the gender ratio of the student population.

King, the Long Beach Poly High graduate who has been a champion of gender equality for more than a half-century, won 39 Grand Slam tennis titles and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She recently spoke to The Associated Press about the anniversary. Here are her insights, edited and condensed.

AP: In 1972, women could barely attend college, let alone play sports. What do you recall about the culture when Title IX was passed?

KING: It’s really an educational amendment because we had classroom quotas before 1972. The quotas were 5% of the class could be women and schools would turn people away. Places like Stanford or if you wanted to be a doctor at Harvard. I was a pre-Title IX college kid and worked two jobs. Arthur Ashe and Stan Smith had full scholarships (to play tennis). In those 37 words of Title IX is the word “activity.” That word is the only reason, really, we have women’s sports. (Then-Indiana Republican) Sen. Birch Bayh said they almost didn’t put “activity” into the law. As a catch-all, they said, “Let’s just leave it in, you never know.” We have 60% women going to college today.

AP: A year later, you famously beat self-proclaimed chauvinist Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match viewed by millions on TV. Why was the win so important?

KING: I do think it helped push the idea of equality and women’s sports and scholarships. I knew it was about social change and we were only in our third year of professional tennis. I wanted to change the hearts and minds of the country to believe in Title IX, believe that women deserved equality. We couldn’t get a credit card on our own when I played Bobby. When I started the Women’s Sports Foundation in 1974, I said we have to be the guardian angels of Title IX and really help protect it.

AP: Since the passage of Title IX, what progress is most obvious and what areas still need work?

KING: I think probably Title IX has helped suburban white girls the most. In the next 50 years, we really have to concentrate on getting more and more girls of color. We’ve got to make sure we take care of girls with disabilities. I know a lot of schools are not in compliance. The Office of Civil Rights is supposed to enforce everything. It’s very small, not enough people to be a proper police force.

AP: What’s your opinion of transgender people participating in sports?

KING: We have to help the LGBT community and especially trans athletes. I’m very big on inclusion, so I want everyone to have a chance to play, but I also want it to be fair. Some people tend to think they shouldn’t be allowed at all. I always worry about every person having a chance to play and compete. It’s not cut and dry. Those things are for the next 50 years, because it’s still about equality and equity.

AP: You recently invested in the new pro women’s soccer team Angel City FC, along with Natalie Portman, Mia Hamm and others. Do you think female ownership is the wave of the future?

KING: (Wife) Ilana (Kloss) and I went to the first Angel City game, it was amazing, they sold out. It’s the first soccer team run mostly by women, along with Serena’s (Williams) husband (Alexis Ohanian). Absolutely, I want more and more women to be owners in everything. We also are proud to be part-owners of the Dodgers. I’d like to see more professional leagues in softball and ice hockey. I’m encouraging girls to become owners – you have power, you can make decisions.