Tennis Prose



Arthur Ashe Challenged Billie Jean King’s Equal Prize Money Crusade

anaivOne of my favorite old re-runs is the Dick Cavett Show on Decades Network. The witty Nebraskan was a popular TV figure in the 70s with his own interview show. A couple of weeks ago I taped the two-segment show with Arthur Ashe as the guest and was quite startled to learn that Ashe completely disagreed with the equal prize money issue which was orchestrated by Billie Jean King.

Although I once interviewed Ashe in 1992 for a short Biofile at the Pathmark Classic Mahwah tennis exhibition, I didn’t really get a sense for how smart of a man he was. On Cavett’s show, I certainly did.

Cavett instigated the equal prize money debate and Ashe explained his position. “We’ve come to realize, like other sports, our appeal (as tennis players) is about 70% entertainment and 30% sport,” said Ashe on the 1980 telecast in a New York City studio. “And as such, the amount of money that we make or we can command in prize money, is directly related to our box office appeal. What I said was that women don’t deserve the same amount of prize money as men. They don’t. We are not out there making car doors for Ford Motor Company. One example that I like to use is let’s suppose that Caesars Palace (in Las Vegas) was going to have The Carpenters (perform a concert) one week and Frank Sinatra the next week. Now would you pay Frank Sinatra the same that you would pay The Carpenters? Obviously not. You’d pay Frank quite a bit more than you’d pay The Carpenters. For the exact same number of hours.”

“All I was saying was that the caliber or quality of matches put on by a draw of 128 women, in no way, right now in the Fall of 1980, equals the appeal of a draw of the best 128 men. One day the women might command more. But right now it’s not the same. But at the top, there’s no question that Chrissie or Tracy Austin, they are just as powerful as a Borg or a McEnroe. But, unfortunately, in the first round of 64 matches, the top women usually win those matches very easily. Chrissie Evert seldom loses more than two games a set before she gets to the quarterfinal. But it’s almost assuredly one of the sixteen seeds in the men’s will lose in the first or second round.”

As one might expect, Billie Jean King was hardly amused by Ashe’s contradictory position, according to Ashe, who was retired from the sport at the time of the show, having been forced to retire because of a heart attack just a few years after he won Wimbledon in 1975. Ashe revealed that King confronted him about his equal prize money opinions. “Billie Jean…she got on me,” said Ashe. “She said, ‘How can you do that? After all i supported you through the civil rights days. You let me down.’ I said, ‘Billie Jean, it’s apples and oranges. We’re not talking about the same thing. I would support you whole-heartedly if you were striking Ford Motor Company because they didn’t pay you the same as the pay a man for doing the same job. But this is entertainment. This is not a job like most other people have. It’s whatever you can bargain for.'”

Ashe said King did not accept his argument points. “She wants to say equal pay for equal work but that has nothing to do with it.”

By Scoop Malinowski

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  • catherine · July 25, 2017 at 2:26 pm

    I’m not getting into this equal prize money thing except to note that Arthur Ashe was actually a bit of a chauvinist on the issue and perceived as such by the leading women players in the 70s.

  • Hartt · July 25, 2017 at 2:30 pm

    From what I’ve read Ashe, for all that he was on the side of the angels in many areas, did not really appreciate women’s tennis, or what women were up against generally. After being married to a smart, competent woman, he was wise enough to change some of his views.

  • Scoop Malinowski · July 25, 2017 at 4:29 pm

    Scoop Malinowski writes:

    Catherine; Ashe backs up his position with sound logic. He even says that women could someday outdraw men and they'd deserve more $. Smearing him as a "chauvinist" seems like a cheap shot. Back then and now the vast majority of fans male and female prefer mens tennis though I do know of a scattered few people who do prefer womens tennis and some of those people are men.

  • Scoop Malinowski · July 25, 2017 at 4:32 pm

    Scoop Malinowski writes:

    Hartt; I don't know of many if any ATP pros current or pro who go out of their way to watch womens tennis. I mean, Agassi did not even know who Barbara Schett was and she played concurrent to his own career. I was seated near Fred Stolle in the US Open media cafe while Stosur and Kirilenko were playing the longest US Open tiebreaker in history on the TV and Stolle did not watch any of it, totally didn't care. But I do know Federer likes it and said Kuznetsova is a player he likes to watch.

  • Hartt · July 25, 2017 at 5:51 pm

    Andy Murray enjoys women’s tennis and is often aware of even young up-and-coming players.

  • catherine · July 26, 2017 at 2:25 am

    Scoop –
    As I said I’m not getting into the equal prize money thing, we’ve been here before many times and it tends to bring up some unpleasant feelings which are best left buried.
    Hartt is right about Ashe by the way, and I’m not in the habit of ‘smearing’ anyone with anything. I find that accusation insulting.
    Also, although I hate to admit it, I was alive in the ’70s and I can remember exactly what most players, including Ashe, thought about everything to do with the women’s movement, on and off the court.

    There wasn’t much ‘logic’ around these issues, then or now.
    And why are the majority of women’s coaches men ?
    Money I suppose.

  • Andrew Miller · July 26, 2017 at 5:30 pm

    Give equal prize money, but fine both tours if a player cant volley. Better yet, if they don’t add to their game fine them and dock pay.

  • Andrew Miller · July 26, 2017 at 5:31 pm

    I watch women’s tennis because it’s tennis.

  • Andrew Miller · July 26, 2017 at 5:31 pm

    Just like I watch doubles, because it’s tennis.

  • Doug Day · July 26, 2017 at 11:37 pm

    “prize money is directly related to box office appeal” is the straightforward logical statement cited here. Ashe was no chauvanist and all the handwringing here amounts to evasion, claims of “disparate impact” etc. Sports like ours are perhaps the last holdout of the merit-based,colorblind world IMHO. Are we really sacraficing our sports standards on a redistributionist political sideshow?

  • catherine · July 27, 2017 at 3:00 am

    Prizemoney is related to one thing only – the amount someone is prepared to pay.

    And that’s it.

    Andrew – well said 🙂

  • Doug Day · July 27, 2017 at 8:16 am

    … so said Michael Corleone
    or Al Sharpton
    or Billie Jean.

    Ladies prefer ATP and each year polls show women identifing less and less with feminist tired crusade. But please keep it comming.

    Skip- time is on our side

  • Scoop Malinowski · July 27, 2017 at 8:22 am

    Scoop Malinowski writes:

    Well said Doug, that whole feminist fabrication was just a divide and conquer tactic.

  • Hartt · July 27, 2017 at 8:27 am

    If you guys could be female for just one month you would have a very different perspective. I have faced discrimination throughout my life. I had to perform much better than men just to have a chance.

  • Scoop Malinowski · July 27, 2017 at 8:57 am

    Scoop Malinowski writes:

    Hartt; Everybody faces discrimination and racial and political quotas and all that. We all just have to keep going and keep trying to pursue excellence.

  • Doug Day · July 27, 2017 at 9:06 am

    Men are by nature competitive, aggressive, and can be maniacally driven (compare their suicide rates). This is a hormonal and behavioral fact, reflected throughout the history of humanity. It explains why men commit nearly all of the violent crime, but it also explains why men have invented and built nearly everything you own.

  • catherine · July 27, 2017 at 9:07 am

    Scoop –
    I’m afraid your comments don’t persuade me you are trying to pursue excellence in this area.

    Why do you keep bringing up this tired subject over and over again ?
    Time is on whose side ? That’s a nasty comment.
    ‘Feminist fabrication’ ? That’s another nasty one.

    I’m with Hartt here. I came to this site to discuss interesting topics to do with tennis, not to see the dreary old misogyny I was reading 40 years ago.
    I’d like to stay here and I’m planning to but I will leave if some of this doesn’t stop.

  • catherine · July 27, 2017 at 9:12 am

    Doug Day

    You’re living in the past.

  • Scoop Malinowski · July 27, 2017 at 9:24 am

    Scoop Malinowski writes:

    Yeah, let's stick to tennis. I just thought it was very interesting that Ashe took the position he did, I thought he was on the other side. Love the old Dick Cavett reruns.

  • Hartt · July 27, 2017 at 9:27 am

    Catherine, I feel like I have said everything I have to say on feminism and equal prize money. We are not going to get anywhere with these dinosaurs. I am simply going to boycott any further discussion on these topics and just stick to tennis.

  • Doug Day · July 27, 2017 at 9:32 am

    The pursuit of excellance should be gender neutral.

  • catherine · July 27, 2017 at 9:48 am

    Hartt –
    Totally agree with you. I thought I might resist being drawn into all this but old habits die hard.

    From now on it’s tennis only from me.

  • Andrew Miller · July 27, 2017 at 11:40 am

    Catherine, I’ve lost to many excellent tennis players younger and older than I am. I have a huge serve, and a complete game, and it didn’t make a dent.
    Half of these losses were to women.
    Any argument over any of this smacks of something that isn’t true. The tennis ball is indifferent to whoever is playing and so too the scoreboard.
    I can just as easily lose to a wheelchair player. Because their skill is higher.
    And I played one of the most competitive leagues in the world, same as Spadea.



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