On Thursday, April 20, in Beverly Hills, California, the Womens Sports Foundation hosted a celebration of positive media representation of girls' and womens sports, named The Billies in honour of founder Billie Jean King. The purpose of this celebration was three-fold, according to the foundation's Web site.
On a basic level, organisations and individuals who are ''towing the line,'' were recognised. Additionally,the aim was to bring the issue of media representation to the forefront of conversation in hopes of being a catalyst for much-needed improvement: Despite much progress, womens sports comprise a scant eight percent of all sports coverage. Lastly, the black-tie gala served as a fund-raiser to help promote opportunities for girls and women.
The evening began with a bang as 50 of the worlds best athletes, past and present, paraded across the stage in the Grand March of Athletes, hosted by champion distance swimmer and commentator, Diana Nyad. The energy escalated as Mia Hamm, Peggy Fleming and others graced the stage at the Beverly Hilton. First Lady of California, Maria Shriver said, to see you all up here made me proud to be a woman. This is the real deal.
After the march, four Billie Awards (created by The Billies official award sponsor, Tiffany & Co.) were presented by a host of celebrities including Marcia Cross, Sharon Stone, Penny Marshall and James Denton. The Billies were handed out in the following categories:
Journalism: (Newspaper, Television, Books, Radio and Internet)
Submissions were judged based on the insightful portrayal of women in sports, originality and overall quality of work. Single submissions and bodies of work published, broadcast and/or aired in 2005 were eligible.
- Winner: Christine Brennan USA TODAY sports columnist, author of the figure skating books Inside Edge and Edge of Glory and television sports analyst.
- Finalists: included Sally Jenkins (Washington Post columnist)
Breakthrough and Innovation: (Television, Magazine, Documentary, Film, Books, Radio, Internet, Advertising Campaigns and other media)
Submissions were judged based on innovation, impact and relevance. Images and portrayals must be responsible and challenge the status quo of women/girls as athletes. A single submission or body of work is eligible for consideration. Breakthrough and Innovation could be awarded for historical and/or current work.
- Winner: Game Face Productions Game Face: What Does a Female Athlete Look Like? An expression through words, pictures and actions, Game Face explored the impact that sports have on the lives of girls and women through a collection of photographs and inspiring stories.
- Finalists: ABC Sports and NIKE
Entertainment: (Film, Television, Documentary, Internet and Gaming)
Submissions were judged based on the insightful portrayal of women in sports, impact, originality and overall quality of work. Submissions must have been aired, released, and/or broadcast between January 2000 and December 2005.
- Winner: Dare to Dream HBO Sports. Bringing to life the 17-year journey of some of soccers greatest icons, Dare to Dream unveiled the struggles and joys endured by those known as the 91ers.
- Finalists: Included Bend it Like Beckham (Fox Searchlight Studios)
This award is given to an individual who has propelled the female athlete, girls participation in sports and physical activity, and/or the significant issues affecting participation into living rooms, on computer screens, movie screens, billboards, newspapers and/or magazines. Person must have created an exemplary body of work that celebrates women athletes and/or girls participation in sports and physical activity and served as a role model for the media industry.
- Winner: Bud Greenspan. He has dedicated his unique journalistic talents to capturing the essence of modern-day Olympic heroes for broadcast on television.
Between award presentations, the Womens Sports Foundation unveiled the 10 greatest moments in womens sports one by one. These athletic accomplishments were voted on by a panel of experts and are considered the most impactful events in history. All those women set us free, said Sharon Stone in summary of real effect of those precious accomplishments.
To cap off the incredible evening, Sir Elton, who received an honorary Billie, played a concert featuring old favourites. This included Philadelphia Freedom, which he wrote for his friend, Billie Jean King. The ballroom at the Beverly Hilton grew even more electric with energy, with water glasses shaking on the tables. Guests kicked off their heels and danced. And just about every song instigated a standing ovation.
When the night came to a close, the headliner captured the feeling of the night best in saying, I am proud to be here in a room of people, of women, who strive for such excellence. That quest for excellence and refusal to compromise was a common thread that united all the athletes, media honorees, celebrities and organizers of the inaugural Billie Awards.