Behind The Scenes

Fast Break: Renee Richards

To modern sports fans, the name Renee Richards might not register.

A generation ago, however, Richards — born Richard Raskin — was a one-of-a-kind headline maker.

A transgender athlete, Richards fought to compete in the 1977 U.S. Open as a woman.

Renee, the documentary of Richards’ life, premieres Tuesday night at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN HD.

Director Eric Drath’s film features interviews with tennis legends, family and friends as well as Richards.

The eye doctor, who still practices in two New York state offices, visited ESPN last week as a guest of ESPN Films and PRIME, an employee resource group that represents the concerns of the company’s gay, lesbian and transgender community.

After speaking at a Newsmaker luncheon on campus, Richards had to hurry to an Outside The Lines interview.

Between appointments she spoke to Front Row about the documentary, the struggle for acceptance, and on being a longtime NFL fan.

FR: What do you want people to learn from this documentary?

Richards: It’s different now. There’s still negativity in [terms of] acceptance, but a lot of progress has been made. It’s easier now in terms of knowledge and education. But in my day, it was literally the dark ages. We hid until we got found out. Now we go through this, and we tell people we’re doing it. It’s totally different.

FR: Would it have been easier for you to make that transition in present society, or do you think you would be under even a bigger spotlight?

Richards: I still probably have tried to do it the way I tried to do it, which is to do it secretly. But it didn’t work for me. I was found out.

FR: Was the documentary as comprehensive as you wanted it?

Richards: A lot of my friends and people in the medical world would have said they didn’t emphasize my medical career enough. That’s what I am, I’m an opthamologist. I’ve been doing it for 50 years. That might have been emphasized more. To have the sexual revolution eclipse my medical career made some people unhappy. But [Drath] couldn’t do everything in the space of the time that he had, he had to zero in on what he felt was most important. Sure, I could say he didn’t emphasize my medical career enough, but he didn’t say anything about my golf game. [After tennis] I played about 20 years. I won’t say I’m a great golfer, but I like to talk about it [chuckling].

FR: What’s your golf handicap?

Richards: A 13 handicap, but I was down to single digits for a while.

FR: Do you watch ESPN and if so what are your favorite shows?

Richards: I watch a lot of ESPN. I like a lot of different programs. i like it when they have four or five different [experts] on a roundtable. That’s always interesting. I watch a lot of tennis, football, baseball and golf.

FR: It’s early in the season, but do you have Super Bowl prediction?

Richards: I don’t, but my father took me to the Polo Grounds to watch the [New York] Giants and [Chicago] Bears in 1939. I go back a long way with the Giants. Not that I think that they’re going to win the Super Bowl, but I’m delighted when they win. I like the Patriots, even though they’re from Boston. I like the New Orleans Saints and Drew Brees. I like all the good quarterbacks.

FR: Do you watch Dancing With The Stars and what do you think about Chaz Bono’s participation?

Richards: I really don’t. They’ve made too much of a spectacle out of Chaz Bono. I wasn’t happy with that. I think that’s it unfortunate.

FR: What’s it like to see your life depicted on screen?

Richards: I’ve gotten so used to being in the public eye, even though there was a quiet period between the hullabaloo many years ago and now, I don’t even think about it. It’s nothing to me to have this movie depicting my life. It’s no big deal.

Renee Richards, at 77, plays tennis recreationally and runs a medical practice.
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