Pressure is a Privilege

“Pressure is a Privilege” by Billie Jean King with Christine Brennan
c.2008, LifeTime Media $19.95 / $21.95 Canada 192 pages

Once upon a time, women were expected to be demure. It was unthinkable for a woman to have an opinion on world events, and even more unbelievable that she might voice it in the presence of a male.

Less than 100 years ago, many women weren’t allowed to vote. In the not-so-distant past, a woman couldn’t get credit without a man as co-signer. And just two generations ago, only boys’ sports were funded in school.

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And then, along came Billie Jean King. In her new book “Pressure is a Privilege” (written with Christine Brennan), she writes about her life, her beliefs, her family, and how she helped pave the way for Mia Hamm, Michelle Wie, Venus and Serena Williams, and millions of little girls who yearned for equality in their games.

Almost everyone over 40 remembers The Battle of the Sexes. Sports-minded girls were cheering for Billie Jean King. Swagger-filled boys were sure Bobby Riggs could beat King in a best-of-five tennis match. What many kids didn’t know was that the way they’d play school sports was about to change.

King says that Riggs had been asking her for a match for months. He was eager to go head-to-head with one of tennis’ top women players; he had, in fact, challenged several women to a match. Finally, top-ranked (in 1973) Margaret Court agreed to a televised match and was trounced in 57 minutes.

Knowing that Court’s loss could affect America’s opinion of women in sports, as well as the acceptance of Title IX (legislation that required high schools, colleges, and universities to spend federal funds equally between boys and girls), King agreed to Rigg’s challenge.

Riggs – no pun intended – met his match.

In this book, Billie Jean King writes about her family and her parents, who sacrificed and supported their children’s passions. She writes about wonderful friendships with other athletes and with Hollywood and music stars, reminding readers that making and nurturing relationships is “everything”.

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King says to give your all in whatever you do (but give yourself time to celebrate victories); visualize what you want to happen to ensure that it does; avoid labeling people before you get to know them; keep life in perspective; maintain your integrity; and always consider pressure a privilege. Without it, you can’t grow.

Has it been 35 years already since Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs? Sure enough, and this book brings it all back.

Partly about that monumental game, partly about her life, and partly a gentle book of advice, “Pressure is a Privilege” is thoughtful and surprisingly humble. Author Billie Jean King writes with a quiet voice that is proud of her accomplishments but not filled with bragging. After a summer of books packed with boasting, I thought this skinny tome was very refreshing in its lack of Look-at-Me.

Don’t think that this book is for the sports-minded only. “Pressure is a Privilege” is more about how to live with grace. Ask for it at your local bookstore, and make a racquet til you get it.

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