Billie Jean King reveals mental health issues in CNN interview

(Photo by Matt McNulty/Getty Images for ITF)
(Photo by Matt McNulty/Getty Images for ITF) /

Tennis fans know that Billie Jean King is a legend with a cup (Billie Jean King Cup) and a tennis center (USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center) named after her, and they know that she won the Battle of the Sexes in 1973 over Bobby Riggs, but few know all of the insights that King shared in a recent CNN interview with Dana Bash.

King did not pick up a tennis racket until she was 11 years old but knew almost instantly that she loved the game and could use it as a platform for social change.  She was perceptive in realizing that everyone looked the same who played tennis with her in California. Diversity and access to coaching and equipment and facilities were on her mind long before anyone else gave it much thought.

She was forced to keep her sexuality (she is gay) a secret because she feared her career would end if it was revealed.  This led to mental health issues that manifested themselves in an eating disorder which King called binging without ever purging resulting in rapid weight gain.

Billie Jean King’s other revelations

Treatment and counseling have been necessary for King, but she wakes up each day knowing that like any other addiction, her eating disorder never really goes away.

Given how much King loves the game, it was surprising to hear that she did not play tennis for about 20 years.  She said recovery and rehab from knee and other surgeries was the main reason, she is overjoyed that her wife Ilana Kloss encouraged her to get back out on the court.

She maintains a good relationship with her ex-husband Larry King whom she met when she was 19.  She is the godmother to Larry’s child.  King never had children of her own.

King is so busy being on the front line for women to get equal pay in sports that she does not have time to think about her legacy.  At 80 years old, she has mentored many female athletes including skier Lindsey Vonn and soccer star Julie Foudy.

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