(AP) Billie Jean King talks life ahead of PBS profile
By BETH HARRIS
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.
Billie Jean King said Tuesday that she couldn’t have revealed herself as being gay in the 1970s because it would have damaged the fledgling women’s professional tennis tour.
King became the first prominent female athlete to come out as gay in 1981 after her partner filed a palimony lawsuit against her.
The 69-year-old King will be the first sports figure to be profiled on PBS’ “American Masters.” Her episode airs Sept. 10 in commemoration of the 40th anniversaries of the Riggs match and the founding of the Women’s Tennis Association.
King told the assembled TV critics that the women’s pro tour was just in its third year of existence in 1973 when she beat Bobby Riggs in their landmark “Battle of the Sexes” match.
King said she fought for 48 consecutive hours with her attorney and publicist about holding a news conference to announce her sexuality after she was sued by partner, Marilyn Barnett.
King also recalled her reaction when promoter Gladys Heldman told her she had signed Virginia Slims as a sponsor for the startup WTA Tour.
She was playing a full schedule of matches at the same time she was helping launch the women’s pro tour, which lacked infrastructure in its early days.