Tennis legend King continues equality fight - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

Tennis legend King continues equality fight

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Billie Jean King is focusing her equality fight on gay rights. Billie Jean King is focusing her equality fight on gay rights.
King rose to tennis stardom in the 1960s. King rose to tennis stardom in the 1960s.
She was the first woman to be named SI Sportsman of the Year in 1972. She was the first woman to be named SI Sportsman of the Year in 1972.

One of the most prominent Americans athletes of the 20th century spent the day in Indiana, talking about equality and philanthropy on behalf of the Women's Fund of Central Indiana.

She's famous for her backhand, but tennis legend Billie Jean King prefers a different legacy.

"I picture myself as an advocate, as an activist. I always did, even when I was very young," she said.

When King started playing tennis in the 1960s, she says women were paid $14 dollars. Now, they're making millions. The activist says she's been fighting for women's equality since then and now she's focusing on gay rights. King has been with her partner for 33 years.

"As a gay woman, I have fewer rights than another person," she said.

Friday's decision by the Supreme Court to take up the issue of gay marriage was welcome news to King, who helped launch the first-ever lesbian Super PAC last summer.

"I was thrilled. I was thrilled when they finally said they were going to face it. It's very important. Don't discriminate.Come on, it's obvious!" King said.

Indiana law defines marriage as a union between a man and woman. But there's a push to write that definition into the state constitution. King thinks Hoosiers shouldn't go for it.

"I think they should allow marriage, period. It's the right thing to do. I know there is probably a gay member in each family or relative and they just don't know it but there is," she said.

At 69, King is quite busy with speaking engagements, serving on the Women's Sports Foundation, which she started, and raising money for the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

Her best advice? Treat life as a sport.

"I think it is a daily discipline that sports teaches you. Or if you are a dancer, a teacher, or in business, there is a discipline in life that carries over in your daily life. Use it and ask yourself how can I make a difference. Every time you give back, you get back," King said.

It's been 40 years since King became the first tennis player and first woman to be named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year in 1972.

Asked if, looking back, she was frustrated with sharing that cover - because no one else has - she said now she thinks "it was ridiculous." She says she felt bad for UCLA basketball coach (and Martinsville native) John Wooden that he had to share the limelight.

King says she believes the Supreme Court will rule in favor of gay marriage in 2013 and that she will continue to fight politically for the ruling with her Super PAC.

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