BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) — Billie Jean King says she couldn’t have revealed herself as being gay in the 1970s because it would have damaged the fledgling women’s professional tennis tour.

King became the first prominent female athlete to come out as gay in 1981 after her partner filed a palimony lawsuit against her.

READ MORE: LA County Increases Water Usage As State Drought Conditions Worsen

King told the Television Critics Association on Tuesday that coming out years earlier might have set back the women’s pro tour, which was in just its third year of existence in 1973 when she beat Bobby Riggs in their landmark “Battle of the Sexes” match.

READ MORE: Nearing Historic Strike Vote, Thousands Of Hollywood Workers Could Walk Off Sets Nationwide

King will be the first sports figure to be profiled on PBS’ “American Masters.” Her episode airs Sept. 10 in commemoration of the 40th anniversaries of the Riggs match and the founding of the Women’s Tennis Association.

MORE NEWS: LAPD Says Armed Robberies Have Become An Alarming Trend

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)