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MAKERS Profile

Billie Jean King

Tennis Champion & Activist

More From Billie Jean

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's Biography

Cause of Choice: World TeamTennis and Women's Sports Foundation
Making the Deal: She started the first professional women's tennis tour by getting nine players to sign one-dollar contracts.
Working Doubles: She worked two jobs to pay her way through college. It was pre-Title IX and no sports scholarships were offered to women.
Getting in the Game: King saved up to buy her first tennis racket at age 11. It was lavender and she was so happy that she slept with it at night.

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."

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