- Game, Set, Match: Billie Jean King and the Revolution in Women’s Sports by Susan Ware
Much like Billie Jean King strove to align second-wave feminist thought and sport, Susan Ware integrated the histories of feminism and women’s sport in Game, Set, Match: Billie Jean King and the Revolution in Women’s Sport. Not a conventional sports biography, Game, Set, Match utilizes King’s career and activism as a case study to explore the “twin thrusts” of the women’s liberation movement and the women’s sports revolution (p. 11). By placing King in the larger historical context, Ware illustrates the benefits and limitations of liberal feminism—as exemplified most notably in the enactment of Title IX—and argues that allowing for the enforcement of sex-segregation in athletics was a missed opportunity for women’s sport advocates with problematic, far-reaching implications.
Ware fastidiously entwines King’s story with women’s sport history, from the 1960s through the 1980s. She specifically places the two in conjunction for King “came to embody the aspirations and dreams of the modern women’s movement in her role as the popular heroine from the world of sports” (p. 10). From Long Beach, California, King grew up as an outsider in the world of tennis—limited by her gender and class, not by her race—a position she disdained. Angered by the unequal prize money offered to men and women in the same tournaments, King and several other female players started the Virginia Slims Tour in 1971. Additionally, Ware explains, the tennis star strove for greater recognition for herself and all female athletes, founding womenSports magazine, the Women’s Sports Foundation, and World Team Tennis. Although womenSports and the World Team Tennis both proved short-lived, the Women’s Sports Foundation still exists as a clearing-house of information on women’s sport. Ironically, King had hoped that the foundation would be a short-term solution, rendered moot when true equality was accomplished. [End Page 366]
Concurrent to King’s efforts in sport, activists troubled by the disparate treatment women experienced in education filed a discrimination lawsuit, thereby constructing a foundation for Title IX. Modeled after Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination against the beneficiaries of programs receiving federal funding on the basis of race, color, and national origin, Title IX importantly added sex into the equation. Yet, the 1972 legislation did not explicitly mention sport, leaving the framework open to interpretation.
Ware’s overarching intervention, to articulate the limitations of liberal feminism, shines through most persuasively in chapter five, “The Feminist Movement That Wasn’t.” She claims that while the Association of Intercollegiate Women’s Athletics attempted to embrace cultural feminism and challenge the commercialized, elite male sport model in the wake of Title IX, King and the National Organization of Women (NOW) responded with liberal feminism. Focusing on equal opportunity, this approach called for immediate access, deployed a “separate but equal” paradigm and failed to challenge the existing patriarchal structure. As women’s liberation was in a nascent phase and female athletes had limited sporting experiences, Ware admits that integration was likely not a viable option. Yet, she warns that the current blueprint of segregation is steeped in ideals of inequality and “in such a situation, women athletes will always be second-class citizens” (p. 167).
A final section focuses on the “outing” of King and her resistance in publicly embracing a lesbian identity. In 1981, King’s former partner Marilyn Barnett filed a lawsuit for financial support. Reluctantly, King verified the relationship; however, she claimed that the affair was a singular occurrence. Ware points out that her ambivalence paralleled the contemporaneous debates within second-wave feminism regarding lesbianism and argues that King was not ready to serve as gay and lesbian icon. Interestingly, Ware also contrasts King’s response with that of Martina Navratilova, a Czechoslovakian-born tennis star who openly discussed her sexuality.