Champions Of Empowerment

Tennis icon Billie Jean King heads our trailblazing class of leading women in TV sports

Every year, with its Women in the Game issue, Broadcasting & Cable honors women who are making their mark in the sports world, behind the camera, in front of the camera or in the executive offices. These women share at least one thing in common — an indebtedness to the path blazed by a great athlete who also happened to be a great American and a champion of equal rights: Billie Jean King.

BILLIE JEAN KING
Tennis icon

“She has always been fighting for equality in all walks of life,” said Katrina Adams, a former tennis player who is now the president of the United States Tennis Association and one of this year’s Women in the Game. “When it comes to what she has done to empower women and make us believe in ourselves, there is no one else like her.”

King, 73, is most famous for her “Battle of the Sexes” straight sets victory over Bobby Riggs in 1973, which will be immortalized with an Emma Stone-Steve Carell movie of that title later this year, but her battle for equality began well before that.

“I had my epiphany at 12, that I wanted to fight for equal opportunity and equal rights,” she said, adding with a laugh, “though my thoughts weren’t quite that articulate at that age.”

King was passionate about tennis but also knew that if she could become good enough at this global sport, she could use it as a platform for change. She was plenty good enough: King won 12 Grand Slam singles titles, including at least one in each Slam, plus 27 Grand Slam doubles titles. She captured 129 singles titles over the course of her remarkable career.

But King didn’t get the National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y., named for her because of her victories on the court. She shaped tennis, and the world, with her push for equal prize money and for equality across the board throughout her playing career and, it seems, every day since.

King had earned less than half what Rod Laver did when both won Wimbledon in 1968 and one-sixth of what Ilie Nastase earned when both won the Italian Open in 1970. She recalled that winning both a singles and doubles tournament in a single week would net her just $2,300.

The goal was to earn fair wages, but not just for money’s sake. “I wanted to be the first woman to earn $100,000 in a year because I knew money talks,” she said of her desire for a platform for change.

She broke the barrier in 1971, the same year she and eight other players created the Virginia Slims series to provide more opportunities for women. “I said to the women, ‘If you are going to do it for the applause, don’t do it. If you’re going to do if for the money, don’t do it.

If you think this is going to be easy, don’t do it.’ ” It wouldn’t be easy — King had to threaten to boycott the U.S. Open in 1973 to force them to provide equity in prize money and Wimbledon didn’t change its ways until 2007, thanks to pressure from Venus Williams, who was inspired by King. (A pay gap remains at many tournaments.)

By 1973, King had led the way to create the formation of modern women’s tour and the tennis players’ union, the Women’s Tennis Association. “We wanted to make it so any girl in the world can have a place to compete if she is good enough and to be appreciated for her accomplishments not just her looks,” King said. With a tone that implies she still remembers the sting of pain, she added, “Howard Cosell did not say one thing about my accomplishments during my match against Riggs that year, all he talked about was my looks.”

But the Riggs match “did change the game overnight,” she said, and coming on the heels of Title IX in 1972, it had a huge impact on women in sports. Playing competitively, even during school, influenced women to go into sports business, King said. “If you’re observant, you see in sports there is media coverage, signage on the court, concessions, transportation. Title IX was one of the most important things.”

King, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, was one of the first openly gay athletes. She remained relentless off the court, promoting the sport and equality for all. In 1974, she founded the Women’s Sports Foundation and she spent decades as commissioner and an owner in World Team Tennis. She helped launch a women’s professional softball league and, as a TV analyst, was the first woman to announce a men’s tennis final.

In 2014, she founded the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative to continue the fight. “Sports helps with leadership and resilience and women are a minority in the sports world,” she said. “Too much of the hiring is done just to check off a box. There needs to be more done. Everyone needs a champion — it can be a guy standing up for a woman or women helping each other. There’s talent everywhere.

“I’m not optimistic but I’m optimistically persistent,” she said. “We’ve got to keep going for it and we’ve got help others along the way.”

KATRINA ADAMS
Chairman, CEO and President of the United States Tennis Association; contributor to CBS Sports Network’s first all-female sports show, We Need to Talk

KEY STATS: As a pro tennis player, Adams reached No. 67 in the world in singles and No. 8 in doubles, winning 20 career doubles titles. When she took over as USTA president in 2015, she was the first former player to ascend to that title; she was also the first African-American and the group’s youngest-ever president. She is also the first person to serve two terms as chair, CEO and president and is chair of the U.S. Open. In 2015, Adams was also elected VP of the International Tennis Federation; last year, she was appointed chair of the Fed Cup Committee, which governs Fed Cup, the largest annual international team competition in women’s sport. She also serves on the board of directors for the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

VARSITY STATUS: Adams has overseen the massive transformation project at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, which is most notable for the retractable roof at Arthur Ashe Stadium, but also includes a new Grandstand Stadium and an expanded and enhanced southern campus. She has also been a Tennis Channel analyst since 2003.

IN HER WORDS: “I’ve been on the board since 2005 but TV is really my career now. And being a TV analyst keeps me current with the players because I’m out at tournaments so they are comfortable with me when I ask questions. It’s hard not to be conscious of being a woman in this position but the beauty of it is I bring a different perspective. Mentoring is vital for our peers and for the next generation — we have to support each other because we are not getting the support from the male-dominated business world. The lack of support in sports is right in front of you if you look to see who the CEOs and commissioners are; as women, we are very capable of doing those jobs.”

ERIN ANDREWS
Lead NFL sideline reporter, Fox Sports

KEY STATS: Andrews recently persevered through a trial regarding a man who had stalked her and a battle with cervical cancer; her season culminated with her working the sideline for her second Super Bowl. She is also the co-host of ABC’s Dancing With the Stars.

VARSITY STATS: Andrews started as a reporter at Fox Sports Florida in 2000, then covered the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning for Sunshine Network before moving to Turner Sports, where she was both a reporter and studio host for everything from college football to the Atlanta Braves, Thrashers and Hawks. After that, Andrews moved on to ESPN for eight years, where she added Major League Baseball to her resume, before joining Fox Sports in 2012.

IN HER WORDS: “Dealing with social media, for people in the spotlight, especially as a woman in sports, never came up in my college curriculum because social media wasn’t around back then. But it should be in the college curriculum now. I never looked at the fact that I was a woman and let it hold me back. I know the challenges are there but I used that to push myself. I’m full of anxiety leading up to a game because I’ve never played football, even as a kid, so that created the work ethic I have. I know the naysayers out there say, ‘What does she know?’ but I also know the players trust me. They know how much I respect them but also know I’m no bullshit and I’m not fluff. I’m not afraid to ask questions. … When dads come up to me to talk about their daughters, I do feel a sense of responsibility in being a good role model and a good mentor. I used to think I had to be a perfect person, now I’m allowed to be me. I want girls to know they can be a tomboy and love sports and still wear nail polish and lip gloss.”

ALLISON BODENMANN
Senior VP, Head of Advertising Sales, Tennis Channel

KEY STATS: Bodenmann joined Tennis Channel in 2014, where she uses her years of media and advertising experience in overseeing executive accounts, managing the New York staff and coordinating between the Sinclair Broadcast Group-owned network’s ad-sales team and its headquarters in Los Angeles.

VARSITY STATUS: Bodenmann started her career at ad agency Jordan, McGrath, Case & Taylor, where she spent 19 years, rising to senior VP, broadcast director. She then worked as VP of business development at Court TV and, in 1998, founded the Syndicated National Television Association (SNTA), serving as president of the trade group for three years. Prior to Tennis Channel, she worked at Placemedia, a startup in the TV programmatic space; at AdLarge Media, a startup digital radio firm; and as national sales manager at digital company IAC.

IN HER WORDS: “When I was on the agency side, I worked on Gatorade for 15 years which was very sports-intensive, buying time on the World Series and other sports events. I also had a client who loved buying sports at the last minute to see what deals we could get, so he’d come in on Friday and we’d call the networks to see what sports events had time at good prices. I never focused on switching over to the network side, but I know [Tennis Channel CEO] Ken Solomon from being on the NATPE board together and he persuaded me, because he’s the greatest salesman of all. … There are a lot of women in media departments now but not as many in upper management — a lot more than in the 1980s, but there is still not parity. It’s not changing as fast as it could. If I have 14 candidates for a sales job here, which naturally seems of more interest to men, I’ll say, ‘Can’t we find a woman for this group to consider?’ ”