Shortly before it was announced that Billie Jean King would be part of the official delegation representing the US at the 2014 Olympics in Russia, the tennis legend spoke out about gay and lesbian athletes coming out.
While female tennis stars such as King and fellow Wimbledon champions Martina Navratilova, Amelie Mauresmo and Conchita Martinez have been public about being lesbians, no male pro has ever come out as gay.
‘I think it’s amazing that they haven’t come out, if there is one,’ King said to Tennis.com. ‘Is there one? Do we know? I don’t know! I hope they do, if they are.’
Since tennis is such a high-profile sport where its superstars like Roger Federer, Andre Agassi, John McEnroe and others become worldwide celebrities, King thinks such a step would be quite impactful.
‘It would be good because our sport, we’ve been leaders,’ she said. ‘I want our sport to always lead. I don’t want us to be catching up. I want us to set an example for the right thing to do, whether it’s popular or not. That’s what you want to teach kids. It gets rough, but you want to do the right thing. And just know that you’ve got to go for it.’
Until the interview, King had not been aware that British Olympic diver Tom Daley had come out as bisexual in a YouTube video that caused a sensation.
‘How did I miss that? Good for him!’ she said.
Speaking specifically to his claim to being bisexual King said: ‘Some people do have softer boundaries. Right now he’s gay, he’s with a guy. Maybe if he wasn’t with this guy, he’s bisexual. I don’t know. It’s whatever.’
‘He should do whatever is right for him and not worry about the rest of the world,’ she added. ‘He needs to stay true to himself and be his authentic self, whatever that is. Don’t worry about what people say. That’s very brave, though, that he did that. It’s getting a lot easier than it used to be, that’s for sure, but it’s never easy to come out.’
King, 70, was outed in 1981 when a former female lover sued her for palimony. She had been married to a man named Larry King for nearly two decades at the time and lost all of her product endorsements almost overnight.
But she played for two more years on the pro tour before retiring in 1983. King has been in a committed relationship with former US Open doubles champion Ilana Kloss for more than 20 years.