Friday, April 18, 2008

Billie Jean King High-Fived Me!

While in Los Angeles earlier this week, Chicago WPS General Manager Marcia McDermott and I attended the Women's Sports Foundation's Billie Awards at the Beverly Hilton*. We were joined at the Women's Professional Soccer table by WPS Commissioner Tonya Antonucci, NJ/NY Sky Blue GM and Head Coach Ian Sawyers, his wife and past president of the WSF Julie Foudy and executives from Fox Soccer Channel and Andell Holdings.

It was one of the best sports soirees I've ever attended - and I've been to the Fire Meet the Team Parties at Enchanted Castle! What made it great - beyond the movie stars, professional athletes, who's who in women's sports, 90210 setting and intimate hour long Elton John performance - was the inspiration from the dozens of world class athletes on hand who overcame obstacles in the male dominated world of athletics and achieved greatness in the face of adversity and even outright discrimination

The event rose to grand stature during the parade of athletes including Michelle Kwan, Rosie Casals, Nancy Lieberman, Julie Foudy and Diana Nyad. The award ceremonies elevated the proceedings to inspirational as back stories to the pioneering work of broadcaster Lesley Visser and author Katherine Switzer were described.

My personal highpoint** was being high-fived by the founder of the Women's Sports Foundation, tennis legend Billie Jean King. For those too young to remember, it was Billie Jean King's historic victory over Bobby Riggs in 1974 that launched the women's sports movement and led to gender equity legislation including the NCAA's Title IX. Chicago WPS co-owner Susan Morrison, who is a WSF trustee and was sitting at Billie's table introduced WPS Commissioner Tonya Antonucci, Marcia and me to Billie.

She was most gracious and very interested in WPS' launch. We connected on the strategy of marketing women's team sports on a local vs. national level. It was at that point when she said to me, "You got it!" and raised her open right hand to me, which I hesitantly slapped. I really didn't think too much of it at the moment, but on the way back to our table, Tonya drilled it home by excitedly telling me, "Peter, Billie Jean King just high-fived you!"

Overall, the event served to validate my commitment to lead Chicago’s efforts in Women’s Professional Soccer.

* This was the second time I was at the Beverly Hilton - well technically I think it was my first since the last time I was there, I was asked to leave before actually getting inside. It was the summer of 1994 and I was living in Beverly Hills (90212, not 90210). While driving west on Wilshire Boulevard in my Ford Probe, I thought I recognized the profile of Liza Minelli in the rear passenger seat as I was passed by a long white Cadillac. Being an amateur celebrity stalker, I needed to catch up to the limousine to verify my sighting. I wasn't able to catch up, so I fell in line behind the target and followed it as it turned left once, then left again and then I followed the Caddy into a covered entry way. When we stopped, I looked up into a phalanx of reporters, and the glare of paparazzi and television lights. A doorman opened the rear door of the white limo in front of me and out stepped Dorothy Gale's daughter herself, preening to photographers as she walked into the Beverly Hilton on it's red carpet. At that moment, I heard the tap on my window of a security guard who recognized that my Ford probably didn't belong there. He politely asked if he could help me. i repeated Boon's line from Animal House "Leaving! What a good idea." and exited back into the real world.

** This moment edged out my runner up finish in the Dancing With the WPS Executives Pairs Competition - Tonya and Aaron Burch, WPS' Development/Relationships Manager, bested Karyn Lush, WPS' Managing Editor and Internet Producer, and me (at no fault of Karyn's) while we all danced to Crocodile Rock!


Jen Peters said...

I'm not sure which story is better...the Billie Jean King high-five or the Liza Minelli stalking!

amanda vandervort said...

What an awesome event Peter. Thank you for sharing this story with us. I look forward to seeing women's soccer help lead the way in gender equality - your commitment to WPS means so much for so many.

diana said...


I wonder...if you had actually met Liza, would it have been like when Buster met Lucille 2 for the first time?

(I can't get the photo to the link!)


Romy said...

What do you think Billie Jean King would have to say about John McCain's comments in light of his stance on the equal pay bill (especially when she is the one that pushed the U.S. Open to become the first grand slam tournament to offer equal winners' purses to men and women alike!)?

peter said...

i can't speak for BJK, but i think Senator McCain is showing again that he comes from a different time.