“You have to appreciate history,” said Billie Jean King during the second round of this year’s U.S. Open, “because the more you know about history, the more you know about yourself and the more you can shape the future.” Battle of the Sexes, the film about King’s famous match against Bobby Riggs in 1973, will be out Sept. 22. Emma Stone, pictured, plays King. On the right is the Citizen Eco-Drive the company created to mark its 25th anniversary as timekeeper of the U.S. Open.
This year, in honor of its 25th anniversary as timekeeper of the U.S. Open, Citizen partnered with tennis legend and gender equality activist Billie Jean King, supporting King’s nonprofit organization and becoming the exclusive timepiece sponsor of the soon-to-be-released film “Battle of the Sexes,” which recounts King’s match against men’s player Bobby Riggs in 1973, one of the most-watched televised sports events of all time.

Citizen invited National Jeweler and select members of the press to meet King at the U.S. Open last month, tour the venue (which is named for her), and watch a fantastic night of second-round tennis, in which Venus Williams beat Océane Dodin and newcomer Denis Shapovalov upset Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Disclaimer: I’m a tennis fan. It’s the only sport I watch and my favorite one to play. Billie Jean King is a familiar figure to me, but I was born after she retired and didn’t appreciate the implications of the King-Riggs match, or King’s work off the court, until I met her.

It was appropriate to watch Williams play the same night I met King. Williams was inspired by King’s lifelong role as a gender equality activist to fight for equal pay for women in tennis, a move that, even in the 21st century, wasn’t without controversy.

That’s the legacy King has left on the sport.

At the Open, Citizen’s executive vice president of marketing, Ellen Seckler, explained that she was raised in a female household and that King, “helped to change the tide as I was growing up (and show) that it’s OK to be a smart woman.”

“This is a brand for smart women,” Seckler continued. “A lot of other watch brands won’t put themselves out there; they talk about the fashion. For us, it’s not about the fashion.”

With the release of “Battle of the Sexes” this Friday, that legacy will be shared further, to a new generation unfamiliar with the story, as I was, and far outside the scope of the tennis world.

Here’s what King had to say to reporters at the Open about her famous match with Riggs, her views as an activist, and what it takes to succeed in tennis and life.

On Why She Played in the “Battle of the Sexes” Match
“The year before, Title IX had been passed. (It was passed on) June 23, 1972 and I played Bobby Sept. 20, 1973 and I really tried to help Title IX get passed and influence it and have it become a law."

"Before 1972, there was a gender quota in the classroom. If you were a woman and wanted to go to Harvard and get your medical degree, they only allowed 5 percent of the classroom to be (female.) Title IX says no sex discrimination. It’s one of the most important pieces of legislation in the 20th century. What it did is it really guaranteed equal protection if an institution received federal funds, public or private, high school or university. It was also the first time that girls could receive an athletic scholarship."

"All of these things were happening; the height of the women’s movement. Women could not get a credit card on their own without being co-signed by a male."

"I just wanted the attention to try to get people to think about (equality).”

20170919 Blog BillieJeanBillie Jean King pictured with National Jeweler Associate Editor and tennis fan Ashley Davis

On Understanding the Match’s Implications for Her Career
When asked by a reporter if she was surprised how much one match of her career is remembered above all others, King said: “I knew it would be when I played it.”

“It was 90 million people who watched it. Ninety-five percent of the media was controlled by men in those days and it still is, which I don’t think is good--it should be 50/50. (Men) don’t care about us, as just women. If we’re in a men’s area, now they care. So I knew that would happen when I went to play Bobby.”

On Respecting Your Opponent
“(Bobby Riggs) didn’t really get the attention I thought he deserved. The reason I beat him was because I respected him so much.”

“I loved history--I knew all about him. He was one of my heroes. He knew very little about me. But that goes back to dominant groups knowing very little about sub-dominant groups. Men are usually in power so they just keep going because it’s fun and easy, but sub-dominant groups know a lot about dominant groups because we have to constantly navigate them.”

The Importance of Putting Girls in Sports
“I like girls to get into sports. It helps her to navigate in our culture, in real life and business culture, which was mainly created by men. Women who are (executives), smart women, 95 percent of them identify with being an athlete. It teaches you leadership qualities, teamwork. All of those things are important to get through the day, even with your family. It’s a constant negotiation.”
“Sub-dominant groups know a lot about dominant groups because we have to constantly navigate them.” – Billie Jean King
On Being Portrayed by Actress Emma Stone
“Emma Stone never played a real-life person before … ‘I said, ‘You’ll never disappoint me,’ and she said, ‘Why not?’ and I said, ‘I see how you bring all of yourself to something and that’s all anybody can ever ask for.’”

"I could tell she didn’t want to let me down and I said, ‘You can never let me down, ever,’ and I knew she’d give it all she had. That’s all you can ever ask of yourself or of anybody. Not the results so much, but the process … That’s how you win in life and in tennis. It’s like one ball at a time.”

On What Makes a Champion a Champion
“When we’re playing, that 20-second gap you have before you play the next point, champions use that time better than everyone else. How we regroup, how we plan, what we’re going to try to execute, where we’re going to serve or how we’re going to return, and adapt to what’s going on, be aware of what’s going on: If they’re passing me cross-court all the time or down the line, if they’re going over me.”

“You’ve got to pay attention all the time and be aware. Self-awareness is really important in everything. It’s one ball at a time. We don’t think about the end result. If you start thinking about shaking hands at the net, you’re not going to win probably.”

“In tennis particularly, if you let up and lose your concentration or focus for maybe one or two points at this level, that is the difference in the match. You usually don’t win a match, someone usually loses a match. Someone makes a mental error or gets emotionally not centered or chooses the wrong shot. You go back over a match and you’ll know it’s usually one or two points that made all the difference.”

What People Should Do Today in the Fight for Gender Equality
“We have to continue to get equal pay for equal work. The men are really important (in this) because usually they have higher positions, not always, but they can change it overnight.”

“Women have to ask for what they want and need. The Wall Street Journal did a study two or three years ago (and concluded) that men are hired on potential and women are hired on performance. So if you’re going to interview a woman, I don’t want you to sit there and think about just her performance. Three out of four men who sit on boards have no experience whatsoever and there’s never a problem. But if you’re a woman who’s going to get on a board they always say, ‘Does she have any past experience on another board?’ You have to keep proving yourself.”

On Why She Loves Her Citizen Watch
“I love the Eco-Drive because I care about the environment and love the fact that because I travel a lot I don’t have to charge it.”

“It’s for smart women, but I hope it’s for smart guys too,” she joked.

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