billy jean king

King Still Reigns

Billie Jean King 'elevates' the discussion about gender equality during the Inspiring Women in Sports Conference in Rancho Mirage.

Judd Spicer Golf

billy jean king
Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman receives tennis tips from (left) Maria Sharpova and Billie Jean King.

Tennis great Billie Jean King will hit the big screen next fall when Emma Stone and Steve Carrell recapture the classic 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match between herself and Bobby Riggs.

The duel has been made into a feature film of the same name, which occurred during the height of the Women’s Rights movement. Time has changed the focus for King, who has been an outspoken advocate for gender equity.

“It’s not a ‘she’ thing, it’s not a ‘he’ thing, it’s a ‘we’ thing,” King says. “We need to elevate each other.”

A recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and named by Life Magazine as one of the “100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century,” King appeared March 28 during the Inspiring Women in Sports Conference held just prior to the start of the 46th annual ANA Inspiration at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage.

Reflecting on her life-long battle to achieve cultural and sporting equality for women, King added: “When you live history, it is so slow.”

King was joined at the second annual conference by three other female sporting heavyweights — five-time Grand Slam winner Maria Sharapova, six-time Olympic medal-winning gymnast Aly Raisman, and 2014 ANA champion Lexi Thompson.


Maria Sharpova (left) with 2014 ANA Inspiration champion Lexi Thompson.

With Foudy — the longtime, former USA National Soccer Team captain and current ESPN analyst keeping the day light, but poignant — the speech and panel-driven event was aptly-framed by the gravity of overlooking the legendary home hole of the Dinah Shore Tournament Course.

Play gets underway for the championship March 30, with the world’s top-ranked player, 19-year-old Lydia Ko, seeking to become the tournament’s first defending champion since Anika Sorenstam in 2001-02.

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During the panel discussion, Raisman and Thompson both espoused their generation purview of young women being strong and confident in the modern-day milieu of social media and physical appearance expectations.

When Foudy queried the women about their respective, revealing magazine shoots for the pages of ESPN the Magazine, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue (Raisman) and Golf Digest (Thompson), the 22-year-old Raisman received a hearty applause when offering: “Strong is beautiful. I worked extremely hard (for the way) I look, and I want to show that.”

While participants plugged their respective books, movies, clothing and candy lines (Sharapova provided bags of her “Sugarpova” candy to each of the attendees), the afternoon wasn’t without its true merits.

Foudy added teeth to the conference when she sat down with five-time Grand Slam winner Sharapova, who is currently concluding a 15-month suspension for taking the recently banned drug, meldonium.


Aly Raisman takes a swing at tennis while Billie Jean King watches.

“You always want to end a chapter of your career on your terms, with your voice,” Sharapova said of dealing with the ban.

Fast replacing a tenor of lament with laughter, Sharapova said that during her suspension time, she attended the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival for the first time last year.

“There are 120,000 people doing drugs that I’m not aware of?” Sharapova laughed about her introductory festival experience. “That took me completely out of my element.”

Also appearing at the second annual conference were ESPN softball analyst Jessica Mendoza, Paralympic swimmer and ESPN reporter Victoria Arlen, and ESPN SportsCenter anchor Cari Champion.

VIDEO: To watch the conference in full, visit:

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