Aug 27, 2018

“Girls Are Taught to Be Perfect, Boys Are Taught to Be Brave” – Why the Battle of the Sexes Rages on for Billie Jean King

As the U.S. Open gets underway in New York, the tennis legend reminds us that equality, diversity and inclusion needs to be pushed from the tennis court across all sports and in to the workplace.
by Nevena Milenkoviceditor

45-years-ago, Billie Jean King made history when she played Bobby Riggs, a former world number one, in what became known as the ‘Battle of the Sexes’. The then 29-year-old stepped on the court in Houston wearing her trademark glasses and a pair of adidas blue suede trainers to prove that women can be equal to men.

Against all the odds she won in three spectacular sets.

Her fight for what’s right has only got stronger over the intervening years and now the 74-year-old King is fronting an adidas campaign “Here to Create Change” to help girls claim the future and encourage inclusivity and diversity across all areas of life, from sport to the workplace.

Billie Jean, is there a difference between fighting for what's right on the tennis court and in the workplace?

To me, they’re the same because sports are a microcosm of society and it reflects exactly what’s going on. Since I was 12 I’ve believed strongly in equality; everyone having access, everyone having an opportunity in life, and having the same respect and privileges.

"It's very important that in law, in sports and in every area of life, that everyone has an opportunity."

At adidas we encourage people to create a change. Do you see a change happening?

I think the millennials and the Gen Z’s are the greatest generations ever in the history of our world to fight for inclusion. They just think it’s normal. The young people I meet, I just love it. I wish I were young again sometimes, because they’re exactly where I wanted people to be when I was 12, 13-years-old. They’re catching up. Every generation has to continue the fight

"I think everyone has to remember that you can do this, that you are an influencer. Each person has to make the change."

Also, we want to hear each other’s voices and ideas and opinions because of the creativity that each person has to offer – we get better ideas. We know that companies do better, that people are happier when this happens. We really need to be alert. I think whatever you give attention to grows, so just decide what’s right for you as a human being.

We know that sport gives girls much needed confidence, but teen dropout rates are huge. What’s causing this?

When girls become teenagers, they tend to drop out because of the socialization that goes on that basically tells us to drop out, and start worrying about boys, and start worrying about other things.

Just some of the reasons why girls are dropping out of sport.Just some of the reasons why girls are dropping out of sport.

"Girls are taught to be perfect and boys are taught to be brave."

And no one’s perfect, but that belief hurts girls’ self-confidence because we think we’re never good enough. You’ll see it in daily life. “I have to be perfect with my body image, with everything I do,” – it’s very important to let go of that. Just be yourself. I think we all have to think about it. It’s not something that happens quickly, it’s slow. Every generation has to keep fighting for it.

What's your one piece of advice for future game changers and leaders?

We have to keep stepping up. You have to step up when things aren’t right.

"Treat others the way they want to be treated, not how you want to be treated because everyone has different customs and different ways of looking at life."


Show us. Tell us. Use #CreatorsUnite to join the movement.