MAKERS Profile

Billie Jean King

Tennis Champion & Activist

In this video

Billie Jean King on fighting for equality in professional tennis and the broader impact of her famous "Battle of the Sexes" match.
Billie Jean King first learned tennis in the late 1950s on the public courts in Long Beach, California. The game ultimately took her farther than she could possibly have imagined. King’s hard-charging style of play won her no fewer than 39 Grand Slam titles. She played largely against her own towering standards, later reflecting, “I'm a perfectionist much more than I'm a super competitor. And there's a big difference there.” By the end of the 1960s, King was already speaking out against a longstanding—and, at the time, growing—disparity in prize money awarded to men and women. Her drive for equal opportunities helped establish the Virginia Slims Series and the Women’s Tennis Association. King presided over the creation of the WTA when she organized a 1973 pre-Wimbledon meeting to unite all of women’s tennis in one tour.   Of course, all of her work on behalf of women’s opportunity and equality in competition came together in one beautiful moment when she beat former men's champion Bobby Riggs in 1973’s famous “Battle of the Sexes” match. In 1974, King co-founded World TeamTennis, a pioneering co-ed professional league, and the Women's Sports Foundation. She was a 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom winner and has long been a pioneer for social justice. For Life magazine, she was one of the "100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century." For Martina Navratilova, "She was a crusader fighting a battle for all of us. She was carrying the flag; it was all right to be a jock."

More From Billie Jean

Choosing an Abortion
King recalls why she made the tough decision to have an abortion.

Coming Out
King talks about her experience of being outed, its consequences, and having the courage to be honest.

Dealing with High Pressure
King's advice for dealing with intense pressure, like that of her famous "Battle of the Sexes" match.

Leading People to Your Point of View
King shares what she's learned about how to change attitudes and lead others.

Lessons from the Game
The lessons sports impart run deep and carry over into everyday life.

Sports Stars & the Movement
King's one qualm with the women's movement and the missed opportunity to involve athletes.

Sports Scholarships For Girls
King talks about the struggle she endured to put herself through college and the importance of Title IX. 

The Example of Doubles
King on mixed doubles as a model for the way the world should be.

Sport's Gift
King describes the trials and the transcendence of playing sports.

Seeing Injustice
At just 12 years old, King had an epiphany that she would spend her life fighting for equality.

Discovering Tennis
King recounts how she first discovered her love of tennis as a girl.

First Word, First Love
What are the signs your child will be a pro athlete? For King and her brother the obsession with sports was obvious from day one.