SI Vault
Curry Kirkpatrick
December 25, 1972
In a sporting year of extraordinary achievement, the old truths that helped mold the most honored athletes were increasingly under question, oven if their records were not. Three times an All-America player. UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden, now 62, won his sixth straight college championship, an accomplishment dwarfing anything his sport has ever known. Billie Jean King swept the Big Three tennis championships and. at 29, earned over $100,000 for the second straight year, the only woman ever to do so. Between their respective peaks, there seemed to be a sizable gap. In some eyes, Wooden represented, if not the Establishment, at least some values to be protected to the end, while King stood for the new wave of individualism. As usual, both characterizations turned out to be too snug to be true. Yet here the two of them manage to express philosophies that typify the ongoing debate in sport. For their accomplishments and their symbolic importance, they are jointly named Sportsman and Sportswoman of 1972.
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December 25, 1972

The Ball In Two Different Courts

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"Tennis players have been pampered for too long, also. The whispering and silences that go on during a tennis match are absurd. I say let the people yell, scream, shout, boo, do whatever they feel like doing. They paid their money. I've been booed. So what? More crowd noise would be hard on the players at first, but that's only because we aren't used to it. If you're a pro, you learn to cope.

"The same thing applies to the tiebreak scoring system," she said. "When that came in, the players went crazy. 'Oh, no, we can't play that!' We could and did. WCT hates sudden death, but in truth it makes tennis. The men hate the pressure, but that's what sport is all about. Now, let's take the Van Alen system all the way. Let's score games 1-0, 2-0 and so on. A game should be four points, no deuce-ad, forget it. That will put a time limit on matches and make easier scheduling."

What irritates Billie Jean the most is the disparate purses awarded men and women at major tournaments. "We do not want equal pay for equal work," she says. "We only want what we're worth. For two years we've out-drawn the men at Forest Hills by whatever criteria they've used, but this year the men's money was 2� times the women's, and at Wimbledon it is twice as much even though I know we draw at least as many people there as the men every year. We think our tournaments should be apart from the men's so we can be judged. If we don't draw as well, we shouldn't be paid as much."

Billie Jean paused. "Many people ask me if it hurts to see the youngsters, Evonne Goolagong and Chris Evert, get so much recognition," she said. "Their stardom and all that attention are my dream for tennis. What did hurt was Chris turning down all her money last year to remain an amateur. She would have won at least $40,000 and often I told her to go ahead and take it. I've put in 15 years so the day would come when somebody like Chris would be able to win such amounts. Then when she refuses it, it just destroys me."

The growing wave of commercialism in sport, the odor of big business, drew mixed reactions from Wooden and Billie Jean. "I used to be on the players' side in disputes," Wooden said, "but I think players' unions have become the tail wagging the dog. I was disgusted with the baseball strike. Management has too large an investment not to have the absolute right to run its business as it pleases. Athletes aren't taken advantage of; their salaries are way out of line. Why should they receive retirement income after 10 years of work that dwarfs the money teachers get after 40 years? Certainly their income is short-lived. But their education hasn't been lost. What do they do the rest of their lives, sit around? The fact they have played pro sports opens many doors to athletes that are closed to others who have more ability."

Billie Jean felt sport does not deserve "this pastoral aura. We're in big business, and until people face reality we'll be dabbling in nonsense forever. Salaries aren't out of line, not even on moral grounds. We happen to be in the entertainment business at a time when that is in demand. If we can get the money, we deserve it. If management can't afford salaries, they are the first to say so. The fact they do pay out so much means it is worthwhile to someone. Of course, contracts should be honored. But when a Vida Blue becomes a fantastic draw, and packs them in by himself, concessions should be made. I'm not in favor of all this jumping teams, but we must face that, too. It's all in Future Shock by Toffler—life is more temporary. People don't remain in one job anymore; they'll have six or seven jobs in a lifetime. Colleges should make kids sign contracts, or there's going to be more jumping."

"Well, I wouldn't want that," Wooden said. "I truly wouldn't."

Billie Jean did not let up. "We must lift sport out of this glass jar. We can't divorce ourselves from politics, either. I haven't met one human being who agrees with Avery Brundage that sport is above politics. The nationalistic flavor of the Olympics breeds political problems. Athletes should represent themselves, not their countries. Using one's position in sport to influence a political situation is a personal, individual matter. I've been to South Africa a couple of times but the conditions have bothered me and I won't go back. In my work for the Women's Political Caucus, I think of myself as a woman, not an athlete, and yet what makes me valuable is that I'm a tennis star. It's an athlete's privilege, like anybody else's, to speak out on issues."

Wooden agreed, up to a point. "When Walton was arrested last spring in an anti-war protest, he was acting on his own," he said. "He wasn't using basketball. Yet he was criticized because he is a basketball player.

"Another recent development has bothered me," he said. "I'm as loyal to the flag and the country as the next man. I love the national anthem and would like to see its use continued at athletic contests, yet my team has been criticized for not being on the floor when the anthem is played. I prefer that we be in the locker room when the song goes on—so the players don't stand around cold after warmups. I certainly am not avoiding the anthem."

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