Billie Jean King kicked off the equal pay fight for women in sports half a century ago this year.
The tennis icon demanded equal US Open prize money, then beat Bobby Riggs in the "Battle of the Sexes."
The USTA is campaigning for King to earn a Congressional Gold Medal for her game-changing efforts.
Billie Jean King is, for many, the face of equal pay.
The tennis legend helped kick off the fight for fair treatment towards women in sports — and women generally — when she demanded equal prize money after winning the US Open in 1972. Throughout the subsequent year, King would go on to found the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) "on the principle of equal opportunity," secure equal compensation from the New York-based Grand Slam, and defeat former men's tennis star Bobby Riggs in the iconic "Battle of the Sexes."
Now, 50 years later, the US Tennis Association (USTA) is campaigning for the pioneer to receive one of the highest civilian honors America has to offer: the Congressional Gold Medal.
Awarded to military personnel, scientists, politicians, philanthropists, entertainers, and more, the Congressional Gold Medal serves as Congress' "highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions," according to the US House of Representatives' website. Though 11 individual athletes have been awarded the honor since its inception during the American Revolution, not one of those sports stars has been a woman.
The USTA's top brass says it's time for that to change.
"Billie has rightfully received numerous honors and accolades in her life," USTA Chief of Pro Tennis and US Open Tournament Director Stacey Allaster said in a press release. "But the time has come for our nation to recognize her achievements with the Congressional Gold Medal for the wide-ranging positive impact these achievements have had on generations of women, men, girls, and boys of all backgrounds, making our country a better place."
While dedicating the year to celebrating half a century of equal prize money for men and women tennis players, the USTA has scheduled programming throughout the year in an effort to urge Congress to recognize King with its top prize. She already received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2009.
At least two-thirds (or 290) of members of the US House of Representatives and the Senate (67) must co-sponsor her candidacy in order for the now-79-year-old to earn the distinction.
"No individual has done more to secure equality for female athletes than Billie Jean King," USTA Chairman of the Board and President Brian Hainline said in a statement. "Her impact goes far beyond the tennis court, and there is no better time to celebrate her legacy than on the anniversary of this historic milestone."
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