Billie Jean King is as synonymous with social justice as she is sports, so it's no surprise her focus will be on both at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
The tennis icon was one of three openly gay athletes chosen
by President Obama to help lead the U.S. delegation to the Sochi Games. Although King missed the opening ceremony to be with her ailing mother who died Friday in Arizona, she told CBS News that
she hopes Russia's controversial gay rights record stays in the headlines – despite
strict rules about athletes' making political statements.
"I think it's important that the media is alert to Rule 50 and ask proper questions and maybe this will help move things forward," said King, adding that journalists "need to step up like the old days."
Last June, Russia passed a law banning gay
"propaganda" to minors and the much-maligned legislation has cast a
shadow over the Games, which begin today. The USOC forbids discrimination on
the basis of sexual orientation and King has said she hopes that sexual
orientation will be added to the list of protections in the charter of the
International Olympic Committee.
"I do think it will help the LGBT community in Russia (to know) that they are not alone," she said. "But really it gets down to humankind. … We just happen to be gay. … We need to really shift where it’s a non issue. When it's a non issue, it will mean we've arrived. It won't happen in my lifetime but it's definitely a civil rights issue of the 21st century."
The 70-year-old King credits athletes like skier Bode
Miller and figure skater Ashley Wagner for being vocal on the topic of gay
rights. Miller has called Russia's controversial law "absolutely
embarrassing." After arriving in Russia this week, Wagner made a
not-so-subtle reference to the law when she joked that Sochi's Olympic color
scheme reminded her of the rainbow flag used to symbolize gay pride.
That's a sentiment that resonates with King, who fought hard for gender equality and helped revolutionize women's tennis. In the late 60s, King tried to form a tennis union – for both men and women – but says she was told to "get lost" by the boys. In 1970, she and eight other women decided to go it on their own, and soon women's professional tennis was born. Three years later, King founded the Women's Tennis Association; today women are competing for over $100 million a year.
"We wanted any girl born in the world, if she were good enough, that she would be recognized, that she would have a place to compete and she would have financial security," King said. "So players today on the WTA tour are definitely living our dream and we're thrilled that it's come true."