Tennis Everyone?

Billie Jean King appeared before the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., as reported recently by Yahoo sports, and asked for help promoting tennis around the country. The story reads as follows:

WASHINGTON (AP) Hall of Famer and women’s tennis pioneer Billie Jean King is asking members of Congress to help the U.S. Tennis Association with community outreach efforts. King is in Washington to meet with lawmakers and further the USTA’s efforts to develop local partnerships around the country. Speaking at the National Press Club on Wednesday, the owner of 12 Grand Slam singles titles and 27 more in women’s or mixed doubles said: ”Tennis has given me my platform … to continue my lifelong quest for equal rights and opportunities for boys and girls, men and women.” King says the USTA ”is more committed than ever to make tennis more accessible,” and has built or refurbished more than 25,000 courts in public parks or schools since 2005.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have always been a fan of Billlie Jean King and tennis has been a big part of my life. But, seriously, doesn’t she realize that these people are supposed to have important business to conduct? Making America more tennis friendly doesn’t seem to me to be a high priority with a Congress that has a full plate — though they do seem to lack the silverware to tackle what’s on it. I readily confess I share the opinion of many of my fellow countrymen about the abilities and skills of members of Congress. Most of them seem to be small-minded, preoccupied with their own reelection, and taking advantage of their golden opportunity. Where else, for example, could you find a job where you vote yourself a raise whenever you feel the need; you make contact with corporate moguls who can get you a high-paying job as their lobbyist after you leave office; and you can pretty much waste your time and the taxpayer’s money because the taxpayers themselves are too busy trying to make a living to pay any attention whatever to what you may or may not be doing? Be that as it may, one would like to think rebuilding America’s dominance in tennis cannot be high on the to-do list, whether or not this group will ever get around to doing anything.

To be sure, the story doesn’t say Billlie Jean is asking for money. It says she wants Congress to help with the U.S.T.A.’s “outreach efforts.” I dare to say that this is simply a polite way of asking for funding. In any event, if Congress were to offer the U.S.T.A. some money, I suspect they would be only too happy to take it. But let’s face it, the growth of tennis, or any other sport for that matter, is not a problem the U.S. Congress should be asked to worry about. Really, Billlie Jean, though I hate to say it, there are more important things than tennis.

Billlie Jean King is on my rather short list of sports heroes, along with Phil Mickelson and Magic Johnson — folks who are keen to do the right thing, not just their own thing. But I have always thought Billlie Jean stands too close to the trees to see the forest. Like so many professional athletes, she lives in a small world, though she is admittedly an exception in taking any stand at all. She has repeatedly spoken out for tennis and for women’s rights — important issues, to be sure, especially the latter. But despite her “platform” she has also been silent throughout her life on the larger issues that affect us all, issues that take priority over even women’s rights and especially the success of this country’s tennis programs. One must applaud her for wanting to “give back” and promote worthy causes. But one must also question her perspective and lack of a sense of priorities. After all, the state of tennis in this country won’t really matter if we don’t begin to control the population, address the energy crisis, and take the necessary steps to preserve the environment in which tennis is played. Neither will the legal rights of women.

2 thoughts on “Tennis Everyone?

  1. Her case would probably be stronger, and more fitting for an appeal to Congress, if she framed a growth in tennis participation as a way of helping resolve the obesity problem in America. Reports last week again said there’s going to be a serious health crisis (even worse than it is now, worse than it had believed it would be) on our hands soon if we don’t get obesity under control. That’s a national issue, and fitness needs to be a part of fixing it. Running, walking — or playing tennis. That would be worthy of Congress’ attention. (and, of course, there could be a demonstration match under the Rotunda, a reunion of SSU players from the 1980s and their coach, showing how tennis can lead to lifetime fitness!)

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