Billie Jean King: A Champion of Vision Care on and off the Court

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She’s a winner and an authentic all-around champion. Is there a better way to describe Billie Jean King? Well, add vision care advocate to the long list of King’s achievements over a long and legendary career, both on and off the tennis court.

King is recognized for her 39 Grand Slam titles (16 in doubles), including a record 20 titles at Wimbledon, and she undoubtedly is one of the greatest tennis players of all time. But she is perhaps best known for the match in 1973 when 90 million people worldwide watched King soundly defeat Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes,” 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. Many believe that no other sporting event has played a more significant role in raising recognition for women athletes.

Today, no stranger to speaking up on the issues she feels strongly about, King is taking another strong stand in support of eye exams and appropriate eyewear, for all ages but especially children.

As part of this effort, King (under the umbrella of the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative) joined with representatives from Pearle Vision and the global non-profit OneSight to deliver eye exams and glasses to students at Girls Prep Lower East Side Elementary—a school where Billie Jean King is a “namesake” of the first-grade classroom as part of the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative.

Volunteers conducted vision tests and optometrists performed eye exams on board OneSight’s state-of-the-art mobile vision unit, Eyeleen. Overall, the volunteers saw 54 patients, and 42 of these young girls received new eyeglasses that day (a 78 percent need), according to Pearle Vision.

Pearle Vision introduced its “Olivia” television advertising campaign in August 2018, as the latest iteration of its “small moments” marketing campaign. The story of Olivia features a young girl exploring a variety of interests from sports to space. When mom notices that she isn’t seeing clearly and cannot achieve all that she wants, she takes Olivia to their neighborhood Pearle Vision for an eye exam. It’s the eyecare and glasses she receives—similar to those worn by Billie Jean King—that enables Olivia to do all the things she loves to do, and do them well.

“When the team came up with the latest campaign iteration ‘Small Moments,’ which we call ‘Olivia,’ we knew that we wanted somebody who would really scream the end product of what seeing clearly is about,” Pearle vice president and chief marketing officer Doug Zarkin told VM. “The story of Olivia is about a young girl with big dreams and big aspirations, but she has a vision issue. Corrective eyewear is more than just seeing clearly. We really think it’s more about unlocking someone’s potential, and this is very much in keeping with what OneSight also believes.”

In the search for the iconic face or personality that would best stand for the important role clear vision plans, Zarkin said the marketing team quickly identified King as the perfect choice. “There really is nobody better than Billie Jean King,” he said. “Her entire career was predicated on the ability to see the ball clearly. Combine that with her natural tennis ability and it unlocked an unbelievable [run] of greatness.”

“Her story is my story,” King told VM in an interview at the school. She compared her experience in struggling with vision issues with the same issues Olivia confronts in the “Small Moments” television spot. The ad is “so true with what I experienced because I couldn’t see and how much my life opened up,” King said.

King has said that it was a teacher in elementary school who first noticed her vision issues. “I was sitting closer to the board in the classroom and still squinting to see clearly,” she recalled. “Although, I didn’t know it at the time, it was also affecting my tennis. … My first pair of glasses changed everything, from school to the court. Being able to see clearly was critical for me to achieve all that I wanted.”