Billie Jean King 1943 —
When people talk about women’s sports, the name Billie Jean King always comes up. This pioneering tennis champion was born in 1943 and learned to play tennis on the free public courts of her hometown, Long Beach, CA. Billie Jean’s aggressive game of powerful ground strokes and quick advance to the net was noticed early on by sports fans and reporters.
When she won the French Open in 1972, the event was a “career Grand Slam”, that is, winning the singles title at all major tennis events. This decisive victory led to others and eventually, a record-setting 20 career wins on the grass at Wimbledon. In her career, Billie Jean King won 129 singles titles as well as many prizes in women’s and mixed doubles.
Billie Jean King was a tireless campaigner for women’s equality, particularly in the area of women’s prize money. Throughout her career, she was known for her positive attitude and confidence in herself. In a famous televised tennis match in 1973, she beat Bobby Riggs who had boasted that any women’s tennis game was inferior to a man’s.
In 1981, she was the first well-known female professional athlete to “come out” as a lesbian, based on a lawsuit by a former female partner. Today, Billie Jean King works closely with the Women’s Sports Foundation and the Elton John AIDS Foundation. She is also a member of the President’s Council for Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition. In 2009, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.