Women who paved the way: Billie Jean King


Courtesy of Gage Skidmore on Creative Commons

Billie Jean King has an impressive record on and off the court as she continues advocating for equal rights and the LGBTQ+ community.

Emily Dvareckas, Photo Editor

In light of Women’s History Month, The Hawks’ Herald is featuring important women from throughout history. The third week of March highlights women who have paved the way in sports.

Billie Jean King was born on Nov. 22, 1943 in California. She was an athletic child, following in her parents’ footsteps. She played softball and at the age of 10, she was playing shortstop for a 14U team. After leaving softball, she asked her father what sport she would have the most success in and he mentioned tennis. Soon after, she was spending as much time as possible on the public courts.

In 1955, King went to participate in a tournament for the Los Angeles Tennis Club but was turned away from the court for wearing tennis shorts her mother had made and not a tennis skirt. In 1958, she won the tournament for her age bracket in the Southern California Championship.

A year later, King became a professional tennis player. From 1961 to 1964, she attended California State University while also playing in tournaments and instructing young tennis players. In 1965, she married Larry King who she would later divorce in 1987.

After a series of losses and a desire to become a better player, Billie Jean King made history with Karen Hantze Susman when they became the youngest pair to win Wimbledon in 1961. King would go on to have several monumental wins such as winning her first singles championship at Wimbledon in 1966 and repeated wins in 1967 and 1968.

She also won the U.S. Open singles championship in 1967 and her first and only Australian Open in 1968. By the time of her 1968 wins, she had been the #1 female tennis player in the world for three consecutive years and she earned that title again in 1971, 1972 and 1974.

From 1961 to 1979, King broke records with 20 Wimbledon wins, 13 U.S. titles, four French titles and two Australian titles. In 1972, King had won at Wimbledon, the French Open and the U.S. Open, leaving her with three Grand Slam titles in a single year. On Sept. 20, 1973, King would take the court to play against Bobby Riggs.

The match was dubbed “battles of the sexes” and 90 million viewers tuned in. King went on to win straight sets against the overly confident Riggs. She officially retired from the sport in 1990, leaving with 39 major singles, doubles and mixed doubles championships. Off the court, Billie Jean King advocated for equal rights between men and women in the sport.

In 1971, she became the first female athlete to win more than $100,000 in prize money. When she won the U.S. Open in 1972, she received $15,000 less than the men’s champion. Her advocacy work heightened after establishing the Women’s Tennis Association and becoming its first president.

Her work led to the U.S. Open being the first major sporting tournament to offer equal prizes for men and women. After her wins over Riggs, King established the Women’s Sports Foundation and co-founded the World TeamTennis co-ed circuit.

During her marriage to Larry King, Billie Jean realized she was a lesbian and began having an affair. After a lawsuit was brought against her by her former lover, her sexuality became known worldwide which led to her losing all of her endorsement deals.

King was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 1987 and in 2006, she became the first woman to have a major sports venue named after her. In 2009, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her advocacy work on behalf of women and the LGBTQ community.

She served as the acting director of Elton John’s AIDS Foundation as well as the National AIDS Fund. At the age of 77, Billie Jean King continues to fight discrimination and injustice alongside her partner Ilana Kloss.