Billie Jean King says she would relish the chance to talk about equality with US President Donald Trump as the tennis great threw her support behind US soccer star Megan Rapinoe.
The 33-year-old Rapinoe made waves around the world when she told Eight By Eight soccer magazine she would not take up any potential invite to visit the White House should the US National Women’s Team (USWNT) win the Women’s World Cup.
Rapinoe’s comments drew criticism from Trump, who issued a series of critical tweets, including one that read: “Megan should never disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag.”
A long-time advocate for women’s rights, King says personal choice is a fundamental right, as she embraced the idea of tackling Trump face-to-face about equality issues.
“Everyone has a choice, she [Rapinoe] has a choice. Maybe some of the others would want to go,” the 75-year-old King told CNN Sport, referring to other members of the USWNT team.
“Personally, if I were on that team I would want us to go as a team or not go as a team,” added King, who was speaking at an event for her BJK Leadership Initiative for LGBT athletes ahead of the Wimbledon championships, which start on Monday July 1.
“That’s the way I would try to lead. But I still think if a person doesn’t want to go, that is their right, because that is what makes America strong and other countries strong – freedom of expression, that’s our first amendment, right?
“You don’t have to agree with each other, you can still be kind and good to each other and not agree. That means she’s [Rapinoe] trying to move things forward. Sometimes you have to go almost radical for anyone to go ‘oh’ and pay attention.”
A former world No.1, who won 12 grand slam singles titles in an illustrious tennis career, King was instrumental in driving women’s tennis forward in the 1970s and was the founder of the Women’s Tennis Association. She has long campaigned for equal pay for men and women.
And she believes the best way to move forward in the equality battle is to meet those with differing views and says she would take up an invite to discuss the issues with President Trump – if one was ever forthcoming.
“If I could have a chat about it I would probably want to talk to him,” said King, who is also famous for her “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match against 55-year-old male professional Bobby Riggs in 1973.
“Any time you have a chance to meet this person and have a discussion I think is always good. Even if they are diametrically opposed in their philosophies. I always think it’s good to listen to people who are not like yourself. You don’t have to agree.
“If I can help him see what I see and he’s going to want me to see what he sees and maybe we shift a little. That’s negotiation, that’s leadership, that’s the things you have to go through.”
King believes that society is now in the “second wave of the women’s sports movement.”
She added: “The first one was with us back in the early 70s, there was a lot of excitement about women’s tennis and other sports started to get a little more excited, golf grew up even more.
“But women’s team sports are what matters, too. A lot. That’s in its infancy. You have to understand – you need equal investment, equal enthusiasm, equal everything. If you don’t have all these ingredients it’s not going to happen.
“We’re so young. Just to try to envision how much better the talent pool is in say women’s football than it was 20 years ago.”