Billie Jean King was born on November 22, 1943 in Long Beach, California. When she was younger, she was an exceptional softball player. However, she knew that there was no significant future for women in softball. After realizing this, her parents introduced her to tennis.
Billie Jean King learned to play tennis on the public courts in Long Beach, California. She attended high school at Long Beach Polytechnic high school. While still in high school she decided to play tennis professionally. She gained world recognition in 1961 when she won the women’s double title at Wimbledon when she was only 17 years old. This was her first career tournament. The following year, she competed in the singles tournament at Wimbledon and won against the number one player in the world. Billie Jean won her first six singles titles at Wimbledon. In 1967 she won both singles titles at Wimbledon and at the U.S. Open. She soon developed a reputation as an aggressive, hard-hitting net rusher, with high speed and a highly competitive personality. One of her famous quotes is “Victory is fleeting. Losing is forever.” Billie Jean soon realized the inequality of prize money between the male and female winners. In 1972, after winning a singles tournament at the U.S. Open, Billie Jean became frustrated with the prize money she received compared to the men’s winner. She received only $100,000 whereas, he won $115,000. She then stated that if the prize money were not equal the following year, she would not return to play the following year. In 1973, the U.S. Open became the first tennis tournament that offered equal prize money for both the men and women.
One of the things that Billie Jean is most remembered for is her match against Bobby Riggs. Bobby was a male chauvinist, who claimed that women’s tennis was inferior to men’s tennis. At 55 years old, he even made the comment that he could still beat the current top female players. Bobby challenged and defeated Margaret Court in a match. Shortly after this, Bobby challenged Billie Jean. Billie Jean had previously rejected his challenges, but thought that if she didn’t accept his challenge and win, “set women’s tennis back 50 years if I don’t win this match. It would ruin the women’s [tennis] tour and affect all women’s self esteem.” The tennis match was called “The Battle of the Sexes.” It was held at the Houston Astrodome and there were approximately 30,000 people in attendance. There were also an estimated 50 million people watching on television worldwide. Billie Jean defeated Bobby in this match. This match was considered a very significant event in developing greater recognition and respect for women’s tennis.
Billie Jean led player efforts to start the first women’s tennis tour called the Virginia Slims. She also became the first president of the Women’s Tennis Association. She also founded WomenSports magazine and started the Women’s Sports Foundation. She is also a founding member on the Board of Honorary Trustees for the National Sports Museum and will be home to the Women’s Sports Foundation Hall of Fame. She also was the first American athlete to confirm having a gay relationship. Billie Jean said that the sexual aspect of her life was the hardest because she faced so much discrimination because she was a lesbian. In 2000, she received an award from GLADD, an organization devoted to reducing discrimination against gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, for "furthering the visibility and inclusion of the community in her work." The award noted her involvement in production and the free distribution of educational films, as well as serving on the boards of several AIDS charities.
Prior to this class, I have never heard of Billie Jean King. I think that she could teach us many things about life in general. One of them is that people need to use their fame to promote awareness for different minority groups. She helped out women’s tennis by getting women respect and recognition for their skills. She also helped women by starting the first women’s tour. Another thing that she can teach people is that all people need to be seen as equals. It does not matter what your race, sex, or your sexual orientation is, we are all equals.
By: Brian Miller