12-time Grand Slam champion Billie Jean King sat down with us to discuss AFib and what she thinks about another ‘Battle of the Sexes.’
By Robby Sabo
There are a handful of human beings throughout history who completely turn the world on its head in a positive manner.
Former professional tennis player and 14-time Grand Slam singles champion Billie Jean King is one of them.
While many label her a “tennis player” when the name is brought up, she is a human being, first and foremost. A human being because her life’s work reaches far beyond the world of athletics and competition.
Among her many tennis accolades – 39 total Grand Slams, 1987 Tennis Hall of Fame inductee, and having the Fed Cup Award of Excellence bestowed on her in 2010 – she is now spreading awareness about the risks of AFib.
King has suffered from AFib (an irregular heartbeat condition) and understands how important it is to make sure everything checks out. This is why she’s teamed up with Janssen Pharmaceuticals.
I was lucky enough to catch up with Billie Jean to discuss this and much more.
Robby Sabo: Well first off, I know you’re working with Janssen Pharmacueticals in effort to spread awareness about AFib. Can you explain just how passionate you are in this regard?
Billie Jean King: Yes. I’m extremely passionate about this topic because I’ve suffered with AFib for many years. I’ve been working with Janssen…especially during the month of September. Many don’t realize one of every three AFib patients run the risk of having a stroke.
RS: Where can people go, find out more about AFib and its potential risks?
BJK: By going to myAFibrisk.com. Me and “Mr. Clutch” (Jerry West) are working together in this regard…as we both have AFib. By going to the website you answer eight simple questions in relation to your health.
RS: How will people simply help the cause?
BJK: This is the most beautiful part because when you head to the website and participate, you’ll also be helping a worthy cause. For every person who calculates their risk on the site, Janssen will make a contribution to Mended Hearts, a non-profit support network that inspires hope and helps to improve the quality of life for heart patients.
RS: What else is going on in the world of Billie Jean King these days?
BJK: We have the King’s Leadership Dinner coming up in December. We always have a lot of fun at this event…so I’m looking forward to it. Spreading the word about equality in the workforce and helping many understand millennials better is something I’ll always feel strongly about. Although it’s a Black-Tie event, things get pretty interesting at times at these dinners. One year Laila Ali decided to get to the floor and do push-ups. We always enjoy it.
RS: We all know you’re probably the greatest women’s tennis player of all-time. Who are some of the men and women you admire, root for in today’s game?
BJK: There are many. I think one of the issues in today’s game though…deals with instant gratification. We put too much pressure on these players. We don’t allow them to accomplish anything before notoriety comes their way.
RS: Personally, I miss the days of having a lead American on the men’s side of things in Tennis. I miss those Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi days. Do you miss that as well?
BJK: I certainly do. I’m pretty sure me an you aren’t the only ones who miss it. It’s also tough. Tennis is so unlike other team sports which bring more faces to the public. In tennis if you’re not one of the very best, you’re not going to be a household name. I’m such a huge team sports person…as basketball being my first love. This is why I enjoy World Team Tennis so much (co-founded by King herself and in its 20th 40th year). I absolutely love the team aspect of the game. Playing for the Philadelphia Freedoms was one of the more cherished times in my life. The New York Apples as well – which is part of the reason I still live in the city (New York).
RS: Many of us remember the famed “Battle of the Sexes” with you and Bobby Riggs in 1973. Are you pulling for another “Battle of the Sexes” to go down now – perhaps with Serena Williams and Andy Murray, or even an older John McEnroe?
BJK: 1973 was such a different time than now. I actually only agreed to the match because Bobby Riggs was following me around for a year. And after Riggs defeated Margaret Court (the first “Battle of the Sexes”), is only when I decided to step in. Many people don’t realize how big that event truly was. It was more about us as a whole in society, not tennis. It actually brought tennis its first major television deal…although I don’t think some men would admit to it. I was working two jobs, hadn’t received a scholarship to college…I felt like I had to step in and take the challenge on.
With Title IX also having just come to us the year before, I thought the match was very important in a lot of respects. I understood at an early age there was more to me than just tennis. A lot of it came from my family pushing me. Having a brother, and my parents would do an outstanding job in that area. They always wanted me to follow my dreams. My younger brother Randy (Moffit) actually pitched for the San Francisco Giants for 10 years. He had a great slider.
RS: You’ve been ahead of the curve on many of society’s positive changes. Why do you think that is?
BJK: I think mainly experience. All my life I’ve met and become friends with many genuine people. Of, of course, one was Caitlyn Jenner (formerly Bruce) during the 1970s. We actually did a cereal commercial together…but I don’t think it aired. Another person who I’m still close to today is Dr. Rene Richards, who transitioned into a women while she was still playing. He was a phenomenal tennis player while at Yale University. She remains my ophthalmologist to this day.
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