Billie Jean King "Billies" Award Winners to be Announced April 20

The Women's Sports Foundation will present 'The Billie's' next month, a new awards program celebrating extraordinary contributions in the media's portrayal of women in sports and physical activity.

 

The "Billies" trophy, designed by Tiffany & Co

Nellie Seddigh, Vice President of Tiffany & Co, held court in February in the Beverly Hills store, serving up cocktails to celebrate and announce the 'Billies' and to debut the gorgeous Billies trophy designed by Tiffany & Co.  Seddigh's guest of honor was tennis legend Billie Jean King, founder, in 1974, of the Women's Sports Foundation.

Nellie Seddigh and Billie Jean King pose with a "Billies" trophy and friends

There were so many women gathered at Tiffany's to see what their inspiring idol, Billie Jean King, is up to these days that I had found myself stuck in a throng immediately upon entering Tiffany's elegant doorway.  Eventually, I was ushered into a throng of well-wishers milling around glass case after glass case filled with dazzling gemstones.  A handsome young man playing flamenco guitar entertained from one corner of the store.  Tall, beautiful young women in long, flowing red silk gowns swished about, modeling stunning diamond jewelry on their delicate necks, ears, and wrists.

Headquartered in New York, the Foundation group was visiting its roots that evening, promoting their new award and spreading the word about their fabulous upcoming awards presentation ceremony being held April 20th at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

'Billie grew up (on the West Coast), and the organization was founded in the San Francisco, Bay Area in 1974, so coming back here and visiting some of our friends here like Geena Davis who will be hosting (at the awards event) April 20th is a nice thing and a nice way to celebrate,' Tuti Scott, Chief External Relations Officer for the Foundation told me.

'I started (the Foundation) in San Mateo, California,' King would tell me later in the evening, 'and we used to have a big West Coast presence.  I also used to live in Long Beach.  We really wanted to bring that back and bring something meaningful and bring attention to female athletes make a difference there.'

Sports-loving women of all ages came out to meet and greet Billie Jean King

The crowd at Tiffany & Co. was a mix of ages, predominantly female, and guests were busy enjoying abundant hors d'oevres and libations and scanning the counters, waiting.

And then she arrived.

Billie Jean King at the "Billies" event at Tiffany & Co, Beverly Hills

Billie Jean King looked stunning.  Her closely cropped dark hair is sporty yet elegant and it framed a face with caring eyes and a thoughtful smile.  Even flanked by the two willowy models in red silk, this woman was strikingly beautiful.  As the flashes from all of the cameras illuminated her face, it was clear what an amazingly youthful, vibrant woman she is.

Actress Marcia Cross, Billie Jean King, and Tiffany Vice President Nellie Seddigh pose at Tiffany & Co, Beverly Hills, celebration

As the flashes became more and more urgent, it was evident that another person had joined Ms. King with celebrity 'power.'  Sure enough, none other than Marcia Cross, our own Bree of ABC's 'Desperate Housewives,' had arrived on the scene to lend support.  Cross was tall, thin and elegant in an ecru silk jacket, her signature strawberry hair pulled back into a graceful ponytail.

Other amazing women sports personalities poured in including Shannon Boxx, 2004 Olympic soccer gold medallist, Corey Coffee, two-time World Champion cyclist (2004 & 2005) and the first female in the world to land a backflip on a bike, Tania Satchwell, seven-time motocross champion, and Diana Nyad, Olympic marathon swimmer who, in 1979, swam 102.5 miles from the island of Bimini to the Florida shore- a record to this day.  These women greeted one another and chatted, and then the room fell silent as our hostess called us to order.

'It is Billie Jean King's legacy that has brought us all here tonight,' Nellie Seddigh told the crowd in her opening remarks, 'and it is her vision that will keep the positive portrayal of women in sports alive today and for many years to come.'  She then introduced Olympic gold medallist softball player Jessica Mendoza, a Foundation trustee, joking that it was her first time visiting Tiffany's and she 'didn't know what (they) had in store for her.'

Mendoza described the Billies awards, noting that they will honor individuals and corporations in the categories of journalism (newspaper, television, magazines, book, and the Internet), entertainment (film, documentary, gaming, and television, breakthrough and innovation (based on innovation and relevance of issue raised).

Even Miss California made the scene at Tiffany's

Mendoza then went on to announce the nominees in each category.  For journalism, nominees include sports columnist and broadcaster Christine Brennan, ESPN (for production of the 2005 Women's Final Four Tournament), sports columnist and feature writer Sally Jenkins, and Welch Sluggs (author of 'A Place on the Team').  For Entertainment, nominees include the films 'Bend It Like Beckham,' 'Girl Wrestler,' and 'Million Dollar Baby,' and HBO Sports for 'Dare to Dream:  The Story of the Women's Soccer Team.'  For Breakthrough and Innovation, nominees include ABC Sports for 'Superstars, Passion to Play' series, NIKE for various ad campaigns, and Jane Gottesman and Geoffry Biddle, co-curators of 'Game Face:  What Does a Female Athlete Look Like?'
The crowd was demonstrably impressed.  Needless to say, the announcements earned hearty applause.

'All that clapping you heard when the movies were announced, you know, like Bend 'Em Like Beckham- there should be twenty of those,' Tuti Scott, Chief External Relations Officer with the Women's Sports Foundation shared with me.  'They should make seventy movies about women's sports,' she added.  'Not just one every three years or so.'

Scott's in a position to make that call since she's been been with the Women's Sports Foundation for over 12 years and claims 'it's never a dull moment.'  'There's ebbs and flows in women's sports,' she said, 'Two steps forward, three steps back- and it's important.  You know, we work at the base of the pyramid.  At the top of the pyramid you'll find all the icons and the champions like Billie Jean, Jessica Mendoza.  They're leading it, but the whole base is inspired by them.  The more actively these women are presented in the media, the more little girls can say, 'Hey, I can do that, too.'  You know, 'give a girl a doll AND a ball.'  Show her the sports page where she sees herself, that's what we're trying to do.'

It was particularly touching to see Jessica Mendoza's father there in support daughter.  'All three of my daughters were athletes,' he said, beaming, 'and Jessica was a 'tomboy' from the word 'go.'  She was so active that we kept her active in you-name-it- tap dancing, ballet, soccer, of course softball- almost everything you can think of.  In fact, she even, on her own, took up boxing when she was young!  I said, 'No, no, no,' he laughed.  'She was in junior high at the time.  I came home from work- I was a high school football coach at the time-and she had boxing gloves on and was out in the front yard with four or five boys.  I said, 'What are you doing?'  She said, 'I'm fightin' all these boys.'  And I said, 'Oh, no, you're not!  That's enough!'  'But, Dad!' she protested, 'I'm winning!'.

Yes, foks, that was even BEFORE Million Dollar Baby.

'I was a swimmer.  So you would think that I would have giant pictures (on my walls) of swimmers, older then me, as heroes,' Diana Nyad told me.  'But, on the back of my door I had a life-size photo of Billie Jean King and her eyes were looking at a ball with her racquet raised at Wimbleton.  She was on fire!  And what she was looking at wasn't the ball, it was the fuzz on the ball!  And I got to meet her before I retired from swimming, and I was amazed that I came from this little modest and unknown sport of marathon swimming and she treated me like I was one the greatest champions that she'd ever met.  That's what she's trying to do.  Not just in the world of sports, but in the world of women in general.  We women have a terrible self-esteem problem in the Western world, and Billie Jean- you know there's a difference between winners and champions.  There are lots of winners.  You know, they stand up and they get their check and they get their medal or whatnot.  But a champion is someone who sees the world larger than their little myopic world and Billie Jean has always done that.  The first day she played tennis, at eight years old, she came home and she didn't say to her mother, 'I'm gonna be the best in the world,' she said, 'Ma, the black kids aren't allowed to play at the club.  I'm gonna change that.'  So she is dedicated to changing women's self-esteem.  It's just that simple- and I'm right behind her on that in everything I do.'

'I agree with Diana,' Marcia Cross said, shaking her head, but wanting to defer to Nyad as her spokesperson.

'Marcia's involved in self-esteem and body image for girls, too,' Nyad confirmed for me.  'She has volunteered a lot at schools and in inner cities- especially for girls- both young and teenage.  As an actor, where body is everything, she's really been in there asking 'What do you want to do with your life?  Do you want to be a leader, a teacher?'

The "Billies" trophy, designed by Tiffany & Co

My time with Ms. King netted some important information.  I asked her about some of the challenges she'd faced starting the Foundation and in keeping it running.

'We're for prevention,' she told me.  'You know, if someone's been really sick, people tend to give (to charitable organizations).  We know that sports and fitness help with osteoporosis, diabetes, depression, breast cancer- we know that it helps all those things.  It's interesting:  the world is just now getting onto this a little bit.  Also, with women's organizations, only 7% of charitable dollars go to us- to all of us- and we know that's another thing we have to deal with.  Ideally, I'd like to call it 'Girls and Boys Sports Foundation' but girls and women are so underserved, particularly girls in college.

We've started the 'Go Girl, Go' program and have been the number advocate of Title IX to keep it strong and not let it weaken.  We give out more local grants than anybody else in sports and fitness- at least I think so.

Every organization has its own struggles.  The things we really like to do, though, the real substance of what we do is really grass roots- making a difference in a young child's life to change her behavior that will allow her to stay healthy.  Also, I think it's important that people who do honor female athletes need to be thanked.  We need to continue to do both of these things because (the media) can make a difference in how (female athletes) are portrayed day in and day out.

It's a combination:  grass roots, media, everyone working together to change things.  As I said in my little talk about the messages we get, it's very difficult.  So we need to keep pressing it at home.  It's real important in the home that the primary care giver really gets her girls to move.  If she doesn't (move), her girls probably won't, so we know that if we don't get a young girl until the time she's, probably, nine or ten years old, to exercise, she has a 10% chance by the time she's 25.  So we know we've got to get them young and really get them to move.

I know I have to exercise.  My Mom and Dad did.  My brother was a major league baseball player (Dan Moffet, pitcher for the San Francisco Giants).  We were around (all this activity) and my parents didn't care if we were good, just as long as we were having fun and staying healthy.  So that spilled over on us- that it's fun.  So it's part of my life.  I can't live without it.  Today I had to work out for an hour and a half- I hadn't worked out for two days and I thought I was going to go crazy.'

The giddiness of being among all those wonderful, powerful women must have attacked the good sense part of my brain.  'I know what you mean!' I exclaimed ridiculously, 'I haven't worked out in three days, and I missed working out to be here tonight.'

'Do you play tennis?' King asked me.  'I used to,' was my pained response.  (A year of carpal tunnel problems killed that dream.)  'I'd sure like to get back to it, though.'


King smiled knowingly and was gracious in her exit and in wishing me good luck with my news article.  'I hope you get your workout soon,' she said as she moved away from me and toward a throng of other admirers.

Well, now, I'd much rather play tennis- at Tiffany's.

Join honorary co-chairs Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver and co-chairs Willow Bay, Bob Iger, Geena Davis, Peggy Fleming and Billie Jean King at the first annul 'Billies' award April 20 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.  Let's ALL be there to cheer on the activities of this group who so passionately believe in the health and fitness of women, to show our support for women athletes and those who honor them in the media, and to honor the female drive that makes our bodies want to move like well-oiled machines and that true champion spirit that glows in our hearts.

Women's Sports Foundatio Executive Director, Billie Jean King, and a friend

Text copyright 3/2006 M. D. Caprario

First and second photograph courtesy of Berliner Photography, LLC, Alberto Rodriguez behind the camera; following photos by M. D. Caprario

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For more information about the "Billies" event, please contact Marcia Robbins, [email protected] or 818/776-1244, ext. 3

For more information about the Women's Sports Foundation, please visit their web site at www.WomensSportsFoundation.org


 

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