Billie Jean King is a sports lover, an advocate for gender equality in sports, and one of the greatest tennis players of all time who campaigned against unequal prize money at tournaments.
Five Facts about Billie Jean King
Started competing professionally in 1959
Won a record 20 career titles at Wimbledon
Was the first female athlete to make more than $100,000
Was the first athlete to be chosen as Sports Illustrated’s ‘Sportsperson of the year’ in 1972
Appointed as Global Mentor for Gender Equality by UNESCO
Inspirational Quotes from Billie Jean King
“Sports teaches you character, it teaches you to play by the rules, it teaches you to know what it feels like to win and lose-it teaches you about life.”
“Be bold. If you're going to make an error, make a doozy, and don't be afraid to hit the ball.”
“Ever since that day when I was 11 years old, and I wasn't allowed in a photo because I wasn't wearing a tennis skirt, I knew that I wanted to change the sport.”
“I wanted to use sports for social change.”
“I always wanted to help make tennis a team sport.”
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Billie Jean King Biography
She was born to Bill and Bettie Moffit in Long Beach, California, and began playing tennis by the age of 12. Her mother was an accomplished swimmer and her brother Randy, a star baseball player.
Husband and Children
She married Larry King, a bridge-player and attorney, when she was a student at California State University. However, they divorced in 1987. Her partner is Ilana Kloss, and they live in New York City.
She participated in a tournament at the Los Angeles Tennis Club and faced discrimination. She was not allowed to join the group picture of the junior tennis players at the club because she was not wearing the particular tennis dress dictated by the club. That incident made her realize how hidebound the establishment was, and she fought against it her whole life.
Mission and Work
As a child, she played basketball, softball and shortstop. Her friend Susan Williams introduced her to tennis at a country club. She realized this was the game she was going to be playing all her life. Buying a racquet with the money she earned from her part time job, she continued honing her game at Long Beach’s public courts.
With her talent being noticed, she turned professional by 1959, and continued playing in tournaments. She soon paired with Karen Hantze Susman and they won the Wimbledon women doubles. After this, her winning streak included singles wins at Wimbledon 20 times, and wins at the US Open Singles, and the Australian Open Singles titles.
She lobbied for equal prize money in men’s and women’s games. Heading the Women’s Tennis Association, she campaigned for equal prize money, and the US Open became the first organization to offer it. Many bigwigs in the tennis world were not pleased with how things were shaping up under her leadership.
All this came to a head in 1973 when Billy Riggs, a retired tennis player challenged her to a match to prove that women’s tennis was inferior in quality, and that no one could beat him. Called Battle of the sexes, the event was watched worldwide. She beat him 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.
She started the Women’s Sports Foundation in 1974, mandated to provide greater sporting opportunities for girls and women. The Foundation provides access to funds for attracting African-American and Hispanic girls into youth sports. Aspiring female athletes are granted funds to continue training and participating in regional, national and international events.
Her efforts to encourage girls and women in sports has earned her a place among Time Magazine’s 100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century, while commemorating her inspirational message of equality in sports.
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