Highly visible in recent weeks due to Battle of the Sexes' insertion in the entertainment world's awards season, Billie Jean King, decades removed from her retirement, is figuratively crashing the net again.
Having a stadium or a tennis facility named after you comes with responsibility— including a responsibility to be welcoming and hospitable to all people. Read my full statement on the Margaret Court Arena: https://t.co/p7puH7z0vN.— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) January 12, 2018
In a statement posted to her website, King comes out strong against fellow tennis icon Margaret Court's stance on LGBT rights and same-sex marriage (no surprise there), and against the eponymous platform that her once-and-current rival enjoys. "We are all God's children," King says.
It's true that Margaret Court Arena provides a high-profile venue for sports fans to be reminded of Court's legacies both on and off the court. Close followers of the sport might glaze over the stadium's name, but the backlash against Court's comments, while nothing new, seems to be coming to a head with King inserting her voice squarely in the mix after initially saying she was fine with the arena name last year.
“If I were playing today I would not play on it.” -Billie Jean King— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) January 12, 2018
Long, eloquent answers from BJK on her journey to reach these conclusions.
Indeed, it's a perfect recipe for King to seize on the forum: major event + cultural award buzz + media placements = intense pressure on organizers in Melbourne. Don't think for a minute, though, that King relishes in times like these; as she herself notes, she fought for Court to be recognized by having one of the world's sporting stadia named for her, and it remains one of the few in the world that bears the name of a woman.
King is hardly alone in tweaking or outright chastising Court. Sports Illustrated editor and Tennis Channel commentator Jon Wertheim termed her a bigot and perhaps even tacitly called on players to avoid playing on the court tagged with her name.
Asked about a Margaret Court assignment, players say, "it's not my decision." Not so. They can decline, thus taking a stand against a bigot.— Jon Wertheim (@jon_wertheim) January 13, 2018
First of all I love Australia and the tour & no matter my sexual orientation , I will always stand up and use my voice against unfair & delusional steps like the one’s Margaret did. Especially when it comes to my sport I will forever speak up no matter what I achieve in tennis.— Darko Grncarov (@DarkoGrncarov) January 13, 2018
The British tennis player Liam Broady went so far as to refer to Court's statements on gay rights as amounting to an "illogical diatribe."
It’s such a shame that Margaret Court is destroying her legacy with this clearly illogical diatribe that she has so obviously been taught by close minded roll models throughout her life. Thoroughly brainwashed to believe such hateful words...— Liam Broady (@Liambroady) January 12, 2018
Still, Court has her defenders in addition to her detractors. Jeff Kennett, a former premier of Victoria in Australia and one with a leg in the sporting world as a football club president, sounded off in favor of Court's free speech.
Billie Jean one of the great leaders in womens rights but cannot deny others the right to freedom of speech. Margaret Court one of our greatest sports people— Jeff Kennett (@jeff_kennett) January 12, 2018
Should not now be denied her right to a view. Billie Jeans view now contradicts actions of years ago
Some have posed the question: When is a legacy firmly intact? And that is a good query, one for the ages–and one that we are yet revisiting time and again.
Follow Jon on Twitter @jonscott9.