Billie Jean King’s Impact on Equality
Billie Jean King is someone who really changed things for women. When she was a child there was not very many opportunities for women in sports. When she was young she would shoot hoops with her father and brother.
One day in class a friend asked her to play tennis with her, she didn't really no what the sport was but when she got to play she fell in love with it. She realized her family wouldn't be able to afford the country club lessons that her friend received. She found free tennis lessons at the neighborhood park.
Her father was someone who taught her how to be strong and outspoken. He taught her that you have to work hard to get what you want. She had to save up her own money to buy her first tennis racket. Even when she first started she said she was going to be the best player in the world.
Growing up she played tennis almost everyday and got extremely good at it. during her first big tournament she was unseeded playing against the first seeded Margaret Court. She showed that day that she was very good and someone to watch out for when she beat Court.
When playing Billie had a very short temper, and was quick to show her attitude on the court. The way she played and carried herself was compared to a man.
When Billie first started playing tennis to make a living women’s tennis was still considered an amateur sport. Women were payed “under the table” and the prize money wasn’t very much. One player explained that the man that a man was trying to kiss her as she was receiving her prize money.
When women's tennis finally became a professional sport Billie got very excited, because she believed that women could really make a living off the sport and not just play for the love of the game. She quickly realized that the prize money for winning tournaments wasn’t even close to being the same amount of money that the men earn.
Billie went to Gladys Heldman , The founder of Worlds Tennis magazine, and told her about the problems shes faced with the United States Tennis Association. Gladys agreed with Billie about the issues and quickly got together a tour and got a sponsor, Virginia Slims, for the tour.
United States Tennis Association made calls to all of the women tennis players and told them that if they participated in this tour they would be suspended.
Margaret Court and Virginia wade listened to the USTA and did not participate in the tour. Judy Tegart Dalton, Kerry Mellvile Reid, Valerie Zieganfuss, Nancy Richey, Kristy Pigeon, Peaches Bartkowicz, Julie Heldman, Rosie Casals, and Billie Jean King decided to take the chance with this tour and turned their backs against the USTA.
The women were playing anywhere they could that would be able to afford the prize money they thought they deserved. They had to play on a lot of courts that weren't very good quality. There were times during tournaments they would run out of tennis balls and someone would have to run to the local convenience store.
Around this time Bobby Riggs was trying everything to make everyone believe that women didn't deserve the same money as men. He wanted to face off against Billie Jean King but she declined him worried that if she lost it would ruin everything for Title IX.
Because Billie said no Bobby asked Margaret Court to face him. She agreed and ended losing in a straight sets.
After that Billie knew that she had to get the USTA women over on her side so that all women would receive equal prize money. All of the women got together for a meeting. Several tried to leave during it but couldn't because Billie got Betty Stove to guard the door. Nobody was allowed to leave until the decision was made. After the meeting all of the women decided that enough was enough and created their own association called the Women’s Tennis Association. The Women’s Tennis association still is the group that organizes women tennis tournaments.
Bobby Riggs started to bug Billie about playing her in a tennis match again. She finally agreed knowing that she had to win.
On September 20, 1973 Billie Jean King faced off against Bobby Riggs in an exhibition match called the “Battle of the Sexes.” Riggs believed that he could still beat any women in a match even though he was 55 years old.
Leading up to the competition Riggs threw out many sexist comments about King in order to hype up the match. He made comments like “women belong in the kitchen”, “the best way to handle women is to keep them pregnant and barefoot”, and my personal favorite “ women play about 25 percent as good as men, so they should get about 25 percent of the money men get. While Riggs was training for the match he also spent time partying, while king just went on with her normal routine of training. He believed that it would be an easy match for him, so he didn’t have to train very hard.
King knew that after the loss that Court took she needed to have a theatrical face-off that would grab peoples attention, and would get a lot of publicity for the match. King knew that if she didn't win it would set women back and would damage the women’s movement.
King ended up destroying Riggs with the scores being 6–4, 6–3, 6–3.
More than 30000 people saw this live at the Houston Astrodome, and 90 million people watched over the television. For awhile Riggs was considered the best tennis player in the world, making this an excellent victory for King.
King continued to fight for equal prize money until all the major tournaments agreed to it, in 2007 Wimbledon was the last major tournament to finally give in to equal prize money. But still to this day there are several smaller tournaments that have not followed their lead and are not giving an equal prize between men and women.
In 1997, she received the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Flo Hyman Award. She has been honored with the March of Dimes Lifetime Achievement Award for her commitment to helping others in 1994. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1990, The International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1987, and the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1980. King was the first woman ever to be named Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year, in 1972.
Her list of achievements have continued even more recently when King was listed on the 20th Century’s 100 Most Important American’s list, and awarded the medal of freedom by President Obama.
Billie Jean King was one of the first women to fight for equality in sports. All female athletes owe her so much, and should continue to fight her battle.
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