NEW YORK (AP) – Billie Jean King praised a portrait of Patsy Mink, considered the “Mother of Title IX”, at the US Capitol on the 50th anniversary of Title IX.
“She knew exclusion beforehand and had the confidence and leadership to challenge and change discrimination through legislation,” King said during the unveiling of the portrait at Statue Hall in Washington on Thursday.
Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in any education program or activity receiving federal funding, 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 in Texas, says “90% of institutions are out of compliance” at the Division I level. Title IX requires equal scholarship and sports roster spots based on the sex ratio of the student population.
King, a champion of gender equality for more than half a century, has won 39 Grand Slam tennis titles and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He recently spoke to The Associated Press about the anniversary. Here are her insights, edited and condensed.
AP: In 1972, women could barely go to college, let alone play sports. What do you remember about the culture when Title IX was passed?
Raja: It is actually an educational amendment because we had class quota before 1972. The quota could have been women in the 5% class and schools would turn people away. Places like Stanford or if you want to become 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). Those 37 words in Title IX contain the word “activity”. That word is the only reason, really, we have women’s sports. (then-Indiana Republican) Sen. Birch Beh said he almost didn’t put the “activity” into law. As for the catch-all, he said, “Let’s leave it at that, you never know.” Today we have 60% of women going to college.
AP: A year later, you famously defeated self-proclaimed fanatic Bobby Riggs in a “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match watched by millions on TV. Why was the victory so important?
King: I think it helped advance the idea of equality and women’s sports and scholarship. I knew it was about social change and we were just in our third year of professional tennis. I wanted to change the hearts and minds of the nation to believe in Title IX, the belief that women deserve equality. When I played Bobby, we didn’t get credit cards automatically. When I started the Women’s Sports Foundation in 1974, I said we had to be the guardian angels of Title IX and really help save it.
AP: Since the passage of Title IX, which progress is most evident and which areas still need work?
King: I think maybe Title IX has helped suburban white girls the most. In the next 50 years, we really have to focus on getting more and more girls of color. We have to make sure that we take care of girls with disabilities. I know a lot of schools are not compliant. The Office of Civil Rights should enforce everything. It is too small, there are not enough people to be a proper police force.
AP: What is your opinion of transgender people participating in sports?
King: We have to help the LGBT community, and trans athletes in particular. I’m huge on inclusion, so I want everyone to have a chance to play, but I also want it to be fair. Some people think that they should not be allowed at all. I am always concerned that everyone gets a chance to play and compete. It is not cut and dry. Those things are for the next 50 years, because it’s still about equality and equality.
AP: You recently invested in Angel City FC, the new pro women’s soccer team in Los Angeles, along with Natalie Portman, Mia Haim, and others. Do you think female ownership is the wave of the future?
King: (Wife) Ilana (Klaus) and I went to the first Angel City game, it was amazing, they sold out. With Serena’s (Williams) husband (Alexis Ohanian), it is the first soccer team run mostly by women. Of course, I want as many women as possible to own everything. We are also proud to be part owner of Dodgers. I want to see more professional leagues in softball and ice hockey. I’m encouraging girls to be the boss – you have the power, you can make the decisions.
For more on the impact of Title IX, check out the full package of the AP:Video Timeline: