One woman, one match, one goal.
Billie Jean King, played and won one of the biggest battles in the history of women’s rights. She became a symbol of hope and power for all women in sports and in general. Billie Jean changed the landscape for women, getting one step closer to equal rights for the two sexes.
If you don’t already know, Billie Jean King,70, is an American former No. 1 professional tennis player, a career Grand Slam champion – won all 4 majors – and an advocate for gender equality.
In the 1960s and 1970s, when tennis became a professional sport, women tennis players received much less money than men. And since that time King was protesting for equal pay and equal rights.
“In the ’70s we had to make it acceptable for people to accept girls and women as athletes,” King said. “We had to make it OK for them to be active. Those were much scarier times for females in sports.”
In 1973 Bobby Riggs – former world No. 1 – claimed that the men’s tennis was superior than women’s and believed he could still beat any woman player. He then, 55 at the time, challenged Billie Jean King for an exhibition match to prove his claim. However, she declined and Margaret Court had to step in. Riggs’ win made Billie Jean King accept his initial challenge and play him in a nationally televised match called, “The Battle of the Sexes”.
In this match, King, then 29, didn’t play just for herself but for all women around the world. “I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn’t win that match,” she said. “It would ruin the women’s tour and affect all women’s self esteem.” After a long battle she won the match and proved that the women’s tennis is not so bad after all. She won for all women. Billie Jean King became a pioneer and made women believe in their selves and their capabilities.
“Most important perhaps for women everywhere, she convinced skeptics that a female athlete can survive pressure-filled situations and that men are as susceptible to nerves as women,” Neil Amdur wrote in The New York Times.
In 1972, Billie Jean won the US Open yet received much less prize money than the male champion. She then said that if the prize money was not equal by next season she will quit tennis and so will the other women players. Thus, the following year, the US Open became the first major tournament to offer equal prize money for both genders.
King was named one of the “100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century” by the Life Magazine being the only female athlete on that list. It’s incredible how the actions of one woman can affect and change the lives of so many people worldwide. “She has prominently affected the way 50 percent of society thinks and feels about itself in the vast area of physical exercise,” Frank Deford wrote in Sports Illustrated. “Moreover, like (Arnold) Palmer, she has made a whole sports boom because of the singular force of her presence.”
She changed the game. Billie Jean King fought for women’s rights in a time where it was unprecedented for women to have any. She changed and shaped the world of sports. She made women focus on their strengths rather than their weaknesses. She took a stand against inequality and the gender pay gap and actually achieved what then thought impossible. King became a trailblazer, an inspiration for young women and a change-maker.
Billie Jean King. Battle of the Sexes. Equal Pay for Equal Play.