Who is she?
Billie Jean King is an American tennis player who led the fight for equal pay for female players and famously defeated Bobby Riggs in a ‘Battle of the Sexes‘.
With powerhouses like Serena Williams dominating today, it’s hard to believe that women’s tennis was once not taken seriously at all. Back in the 1960s and 70s, women players (even those of the calibre of Margaret Court) were paid WAY less than what their male counterparts were paid. For example, in 1970, Court won the Grand Slam and was paid a $15,000 bonus, whereas men could earn up to $1 million).
Billie Jean led a group of women players to found the Women’s Tennis Association in 1973, and it quickly attracted sponsors. By 1980, over 250 women were playing professionally, and the circuit consisted of 47 global events, offering a total of $US7.2 million in prize money.
In the early 70s, former tennis great Bobby Riggs declared that women’s tennis was inferior and that he could still beat any of the top women players. King defeated Riggs 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 in a famous show match, broadcast to TV viewers worldwide.
Why should we thank her?
For starters, every female tennis player who’s followed Billie Jean should thank her and her counterparts for vastly improving the pay and conditions for women players, not to mention the credibility of the sport.
Her Battle of the Sexes win helped boost the profile of women’s tennis and earned the sport a lot of respect. It remains the most watched tennis match in history.
“I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn’t win that match.”
Elton John wrote the song Philadelphia Freedom for Billie Jean King.