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Billie Jean King: Tennis Legend

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Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King

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Billie Jean King: Born to Win:

Billie Jean King was born in Long Beach, CA in 1943. Her parents introduced her to the game of tennis when she was a child. "I knew after my first lesson what I wanted to do with my life," she said.She would go on to win many matches and ensure that women who came after her always had a place on the court.

Tennis Stand Out:

Billie Jean King won her first championship at age 15. She won 12 Grand Slam singles titles, 14 Grand Slam women's doubles titles, and 11 Grand Slam mixed doubles titles. She is the first woman to earn more than $100,00 from any sport. She was ranked No. 1 in the world five years

Taking Tennis to the People:

When Billie Jean King began playing tennis, it was mainly a game for the rich elite to play at country clubs. She wanted to make tennis accessible to all people. Coming from a middle class background, she proved that people from all classes could be winners.

In the 1970s she help found and was president of the Women's Tennis Association, a union for female players that helped raise the pay for the women's game, so that women could afford to go pro.

Taking Women's Tennis to the Next Level:

When Billie Jean King began playing tennis, there was no pro tour for women. Men earned good salaries; women paid a pittance. King was an advocate for women and men earning the same amount.

In 1970, King and some other female players boycotted a tournament because the men were paid ten times as much as the women. Instead, they started the Virginia Slims Tournament that went on to pay a nice sum to the winner. She was instrumental in the US Open's paying equal amounts to men and women.

Battle of the Sexes:

Perhaps Billie Jean King is best known for defeating Bobbie Riggs in the "Battle of the Sexes" in 1973. Riggs was a former tennis pro who was critical of King and women playing sports. At age 55, Riggs bragged that women played so poorly that he could beat the best women's player in the world. In front of more than 30,000 spectators and a television audience estimated at 50 million people, King beat Riggs. The game was considered significant in making strides for women in sports.

Billie Jean King: Outed by Ex-Lover:

Billie Jean King had married her college sweetheart Larry King. As her career grew, the two remained married, but Billie began having affairs with women. In 1981 an ex-lover outed Billie Jean King and filed a palimony suit. Billie Jean King, afraid of losing her tennis endorsements and her career called the affair a "mistake" and stayed deep in the closet. Even with that admission, Billie Jean King lost almost all her commercial sponsors.

BJ King finally comes Out:

In 1998, Billie Jean King finally came all the way out of the closet. In 2000 she was the coach of the US Women's tennis team. She was the first open lesbian to coach an Olympic team.

Women's Sports Foundation:

Billie Jean King started the Women's Sports Foundation and Womensports magazine. The Women's Sports Foundation has been instrumental in gaining access to sports for women and girls. The Women's Sports Foundation also is dedicated to fighting homophobia and discrimination in sports.

Billie Jean King Facts & Trivia:

  • In 1972, King became the first woman and the first tennis player to be named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of The Year.
  • In 1990, Life magazine named her one of the "100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century."
  • In 2000, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) awarded Billie Jean King the Capitol Award for service to the LGBT community.
  • The Elton John song Philadelphia Freedom is a said to be a tribute to Billie Jean King
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