Billie Jean King as a Child

Billie Jean King was not a lawmaker or involved with politics. Instead, she was an athlete, at a very frustrating time to be a female athlete. She did not intend to become a women's activist; it was quite by accident. To tell her entire story, I need to start at the beginning of her life, when Billie was a child. She was born in Long Beach, California on November 22, 1943.

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Billie and her brother were both great athletes as children, and were supported by both of their parents. Even at age five she was setting goals. One day, as Billie and her mother dried dishes, she made a bold remark. "I'm going to do something great with my life," she pronounced. Her mother simply responded, "That's fine." She developed a love for tennis at a young age. She saved up for a tennis racket, and won her first championship at age 14 in a southern California tournament.

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Her gender would become a problem in the upcoming years. Billie Jean Moffit married lawyer, Larry King. In 1961, she played in her first tournament in Wimbledon, winning doubles. In 1968, she won both doubles and singles. At this time, Billie noticed the difference of prize money between women and men. King formed the Women's Tennis Association, and became the first woman to make more that 100 thousand dollars in one season. She was about to change women's lives everywhere.

The Battle of the Sexes

Bobby Riggs was a star tennis player at age 16. However, his career was winding down at age 55. He took every chance to show that men could always defeat women. He challenged Margaret Court in 1973, and Court accepted. It was Mother's Day, and Riggs beat Court. Riggs quickly challenged Billie Jean King. When King accepted, the match was held at Houston Astrodome on September 20, 1973. The crowd was huge, more that 30 thousand people. In addition, about 50 million viewers watched on television. Riggs entered the stadium on a carriage pulled by women, while King entered the stadium carried by men in short togas.

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While they did this to excite the crowd, they were very serious when stepping on the courts. King beat Riggs in three straight sets. Riggs was shocked at losing to a woman. Billie Jean King's victory, was a celebration every for women throughout the world. This game changed the way people looked at women. Riggs was later diagnosed with cancer. Surprisingly, Riggs and King became friends. King said of the match, "It helped a lot of people realize that everyone can have skills whether you are a man or woman... as well as helping men and women understand each other."

What Has Billie Jean King Been Doing Since?

Billie Jean King, as you can see, did not start her tennis career to become a women's activist. She saw something she didn't like, and she took action. It started at Wimbledon, when she realized the difference of pay between women and men. King formed the Women's Tennis Association and demanded higher wages. After The Battle of the Sexes, the fight for women's rights was not over, but it had taken a big leap. Billie Jean King has since then been working on improving women's rights everywhere. She has been hosting parties on the anniversaries of Title IX, doing interviews (make sure you check out the one below), making foundations so women athletes can achieve their dreams, and more. Billie Jean King has had a lot of victories in her life. Referring to tennis, King has been in the National Women's Hall of Fame, named Sportsperson of the year by Sports Illustrated in 1973, been in the International Tennis Hall of Fame, been given the Phillippe Chatrier Award, the highest tennis award, and much, much more. Billie Jean King could have been satisfied with that (most people would be). But she wanted women to have respect, and persisted on having a fight for women's rights. Billie Jean King knew how hard it was to get past all of the rude comments and sneers that women athletes had to endure. She knew how hard women had to fight to get respect and recognition. She wanted make future women athletes to be treated just as men athletes. She wanted equality. And because of King's struggle she has won numerous awards. In 1990, Life Magazine published her as one of the “100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century." Elton John made a song in her honor. Billie Jean King's five-year-old self would have been happy with the accomplishments King has made.

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Important Interview with Billie Jean King


Check out Sportscast about Billie Jean King
Becca Bell's Virtual Legacy of Billy Jean King
Women's Rights - Breaking Barriers in Sports (Title IX)