Billie Jean's Night

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This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

There are dozens upon dozens of black-tie fundraiser dinners throughout each year, usually backing worthwhile causes while offering special guests and entertainment. Tuesday night was the annual night for Billie Jean King’s Women’s Sports Foundation and it has been reported consistently throughout the 30 years of this dinner that it is the lively night that stands out among all the others. Veteran newswoman Cokie Roberts began her remarks on Tuesday by recounting just how many dreadfully dreary political evenings she had suffered through in that very Waldorf Astoria ballroom.

The work of Billie Jean’s Foundation is creating opportunities for girls across America to experience the confidence and leadership and positive body image that comes through playing sports…or at least through being physically active. And the goal of this particular evening is to gather just about every elite woman athlete, past and present, under one roof. My job each year is to serve as emcee of what we call the Grand March of athletes. One after the other, bodies muscular and proud, these women parade across the stage in their gowns, hair coiffed, and in the end 100 of them stand en masse, millionaire golfers shoulder to shoulder with lesser-known snowboarders, all world champions and Olympic gold medal winners many times over, all still to this day sisters in the seemingly never-ending struggle to land sponsors, attract media attention, and live our dreams of playing the sports we love on the world stage. When they are assembled together at the end, a powerful statement that moves the audience every time to a long, thunderous ovation, you realize that this would never be the same with male athletes. To have an Olympic luger or lacrosse champion mixing in with NFL and NBA stars wouldn’t carry the same message.

This was the twentieth year that I’ve announced the March and I said to the crowd that the word "privilege" has become such a cliché when it comes to introducing esteemed individuals but I just cannot think of a better word for my position here. I spoke to Bob Costas and Mary Carillo out in the crowd, who would host the rest of the evening, and they nodded back in agreement that it fills us with awe to speak the words that describe the achievements of these athletes.

Imagine. I started like this, "An icon of the sports world, a goddess of the golf world. ten-time LPGA Major Championship winner. eight-time LPGA Tour Player of the Year. Ladies and Gentlemen, the elite of the elite, ANNIKA SORENSTAM!"

Banner image: Tennis player Billie Jean King (C) walks onstage during the 30th Annual Salute to Women in Sports Awards at the Waldorf Astoria on October 13. Photo: Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for the Women's Sports Foundation



Diana Nyad