Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Billie Jean King
Her father was a Fireman and her mother a homemaker, her younger brother Randy became a major-league pitcher. Billie was an exceptional softball player. Her father and mother did not think playing shortstop was “ladylike” so they encouraged her to take up tennis because it also involved running and hitting a ball. She saved $8.29 in a Mason jar to buy her first tennis racquet, using nail polish to hold its fraying strings together. Billie said, "I knew after my first lesson what I wanted to do with my life," She told her parents that someday she would be the best tennis player in the world…and that she was…Tennis was the game that would change her life and the lives of other women.
History has recorded all King accomplished in furthering the cause of women's struggle for equality in the 1970s. She was instrumental in making it acceptable for American women to exert themselves in pursuits other than childbirth.
Being a child of the 1970’s Billie Jean was my first feminist role model. Having been an athlete as a child, she was a shining light leading the way for equality on and off the playing field. She has long been a champion for social justice and equality. She created new inroads for both genders in and out of sports during her legendary career and she continues to make her mark today. Billie Jean King is a breaker of boundaries; a "shero," to use her word.
In 1967 she was selected as "Outstanding Female Athlete of the World". In 1972 she was named Sports Illustrated "Sportsperson of the Year", the first woman to be so honored; and in 1973, she was dubbed "Female Athlete of the Year".
But, by far, her most memorable accomplishment was when she humiliated Bobby Riggs and single-handedly advanced women’s right by leaps and bounds by doing so. I was young but I clearly remember the rivalry, the challenge Bobby Riggs presented and Billie handing him his ass. The 1973 match was dubbed “The Battle of the Sexes” and it captivated and changed the world. Her victory forever altered the way mothers and fathers viewed their daughters and how daughters viewed themselves. I remember it being a pivital moment in my childhood, I remember how proud I was to be a girl. I was 6yrs old and I will never forget the impact that had on me.
When she retired from professional tennis in 1984, King had logged 39 Grand Slam singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles, including a record 20 at Wimbledon. King was a courageous pioneer in elevating women's sports, successfully fighting for equal prize money for men and women tennis players and helping create a world of opportunity for all female athletes. She was the first woman athlete in any sport to earn more than $100,000 in a season. In 1974, she became the first woman to coach a professional team containing men. King was part of the first women's professional tennis tour and signed a $1 contract to play in it, clearing the way for the birth of women's professional tennis as we know it today.
She founded the Women's Tennis Association and was its first president. She was also the first woman commissioner in the history of professional sports. Billie Jean founded the Women's Sports Foundation, Women's Sports Magazine and co-founded World TeamTennis, a groundbreaking co-ed professional tennis league, and World TeamTennis Recreational League, a nationwide, grassroots co-ed tennis program.
Beyond being one of the greatest female athletes in the world, King has always been a tireless fighter for women's rights. She was a champion of Title IX, legislation that equalized opportunities for women on and off the playing field. A champion for social change and equality, she has continued to help the underserved. She is a director of the Elton John AIDS Foundation (he wrote "Philadelphia Freedom" for her,) on the Board of Trustees of the Women's Sports Foundation and has launched an environmental initiative called GreenSlam to encourage more ecologically responsible practices in the sports industry.
As far as Billie’s personal life, she admits that she was not aware of her homosexuality as a teenager, like most kids. She tried the whole marriage thing but was not happy. There was a big scandal when she was discovered having a relationship with another woman. She was embarrassed and was forced to “come out” as a lesbian, but once she did, she became an advocate for lesbian and gay rights. Although King says coming out publicly as a lesbian was her "longest, hardest journey," she has become an international leader in seeking recognition and equal rights for gays and lesbians.
“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.” --Billie Jean King