THE ELOQUENCE OF BILLIE JEAN KING: IT'S NOT A 'HE' THING, OR A 'SHE' THING – IT'S A 'WE' THING

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KEY BISCAYNE, FL - MARCH 23: Billy Jean King and Chris Evert address the media at a press conference during the Miami Open presented by Itau at Crandon Park Tennis Center on March 23, 2016 in Key Biscayne, Florida. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Millions heard about Raymond Moore’s comment that women should “go down on their knees and thank Federer and Nadal…[who] have carried the sport.” But Moore also said, “The WTA…has a handful of very attractive prospects…Muguruza, Genie Bouchard…And the standard in ladies tennis has improved unbelievably…They’re physically attractive and competitively attractive.” And he said, “In my next life…I want to be someone in the WTA, because they ride on the coattails of the men. They don’t make any decisions and they are lucky. They are very, very lucky.”

Novak Djokovic also stirred controversy when he said men “should fight for more” money than women because “there’s data…[on] who attracts more attention, spectators [and] who sells more tickets.” He added that if men draw fewer fans they should get less than women.

When IT noted, “One of the great things about our sport is not only the WTA and ATP, but the entire interaction of men and women in a global sport,” the usually articulate Serb rambled, saying women’s “bodies are much different than men’s…They have to go through a lot of different things…the hormones and different stuff, we don’t need to go into details. Ladies know what I’m talking about…Many of them…have to sacrifice for certain periods of time…So I appreciate that. I had a woman that was my coach…I’m completely for women power.”

Unwittingly, the Serb had walked into a minefield. No one – particularly a guy – publicly talks about periods and hormones. Billie Jean King said Novak “was talking about our monthly situation – period. I’m like, ‘Oh my god, that’s so antiquated. Dark ages.'”

Of course women playing tennis, or any highly competitive sport, while they’re menstruating is not only a taboo subject, it is – as some feminists quietly note – an astonishing achievement. God forbid we openly talk about this important and complex factor.

Anyway, like Moore, Djokovic apologized and went on to talk with Billie Jean in Miami. Serena sarcastically said that if Novak “has a daughter…[he should] tell her how his son deserves more money because he’s a boy…I would say they both deserve the same.”

ATP player Sergiy Stakhovsky, a critic of equal prize money and gays, tweeted that Ray Moore was “campaigning to become the ATP president” with his remarks.

Andy Murray rebuffed the Ukrainian, saying that far more people would watch a Wimbledon match involving Laura Robson than Stakhovsky. He added, “There should be equal pay, 100 percent, at all combined events. The timing of it [Moore’s remarks] was just so strange, right before a great women’s final. There were 16,000 people in the stadium…Men’s tennis has been lucky over the last nine or 10 years…But the whole of tennis should capitalize on that – not just the men’s game.”

Swiss Stan Wawrinka said, “I’m for equality. I have a daughter. I want her to have the same rights as a boy. What Novak said wasn’t right.”

World No. 71 Nicole Gibbs said, “There’s far too much worrying about what other people are going to think when you’re campaigning for equality.”

Billie Jean King has rarely been bothered. She recalled her childhood epiphany, “When I was 12…I was daydreaming at the Los Angeles Tennis Club…Everyone wore white shoes, socks, clothes, played with white balls. Everybody who played was white. I asked…’Where’s everybody else?’…At that moment I…[decided] that I’d spend my life fighting for equal rights for boys and girls, men and women…What’s important is that we encourage each other, are good and kind to each other and really elevate each other always and forever…To have equal prize money…sends a message. It’s not about the money…Any time you discount another human being by gender, race, disability, we’re not helping ourselves.

“It’s not a ‘he’ thing or a ‘she’ thing; it’s a ‘we’ thing…Morally, [equal pay is] the right thing to do, which is hard for a lot of people. Change is difficult.”

King called for a merger of the ATP and the WTA and said Moore’s comments were “wrong on so many levels. Every player, especially the top players, have contributed to our success.” Still, King called for forgiveness of Moore and added that she loved talking with Djokovic.

She noted, “We as women, or people of color, or disability, we know a lot about the dominant group. We know more about them probably than they know about themselves. We have to navigate in their world, and that’s not fun every day. I feel I’ve been on a tightrope my whole life trying to find a way to get people together and not ticked off.

Everyone thinks women should be thrilled when we get crumbs, okay? I want women to have the cake, the icing, the cherry on top, too.”

In a comment that drew criticism, Chris Evert said Novak’s comments were rooted in cultural differences and that “American men didn’t say that, and I applaud them for it.” Evert added that we periodically need reminders “of the evolution of women’s tennis and the great sacrifices every generation has had to make…What we’ve done to get the credibility, respect, and equality that we have now…The women are just as professional as the men.” She called for the WTA and the ATP to “have a little conversation.”