"Face your fears. Live your
passions. Be dedicated to
Billie Jean King is a breaker of boundaries; a "shero," to use her word. As a child growing up in Long Beach she saved $8.29 in a Mason jar to buy her first tennis racquet, using nail polish to hold its fraying strings together. She told her parents that someday she would be the best tennis player in the world. She was that and a lot more. When she retired from professional tennis in 1984, King had logged 39 Grand Slam singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles, including a record 20 at Wimbledon. King is a courageous pioneer in elevating women's sports, successfully fighting for equal prize money for men and women tennis players and helping create a world of opportunity for all female athletes. She was the first woman athlete in any sport to earn more than $100,000 in a season. In 1974, she became the first woman to coach a professional team containing men. King was part of the first women's professional tennis tour and signed a $1 contract to play in it, clearing the way for the birth of women's professional tennis as we know it today.
She founded the Women's Tennis Association and was its first president. She was also the first woman commissioner in the history of professional sports. Billie Jean founded the Women's Sports Foundation, Women's Sports Magazine and co-founded World TeamTennis, a groundbreaking co-ed professional tennis league, and World TeamTennis Recreational League, a nationwide, grassroots co-ed tennis program.
Beyond being one of the greatest female athletes in the world, King has always been a tireless fighter for women's rights. She was a champion of Title IX, legislation that equalized opportunities for women on and off the playing field. Her 1973 match with Bobby Riggs, The Battle of the Sexes, captivated and changed the world. Her victory forever altered the way mothers and fathers viewed their daughters and how daughters viewed themselves. In 2008, she authored Pressure is a Privilege: Lessons I've Learned from Life and the Battle of the Sexes, which commemorates the 35th anniversary of The Battle of the Sexes through a collection of life lessons that are just as applicable today as they were in 1973.
A champion for social change and equality, she has continued to help the underserved. She is a director of the Elton John AIDS Foundation (he wrote "Philadelphia Freedom" for her,) on the Board of Trustees of the Women's Sports Foundation and has launched an environmental initiative called GreenSlam to encourage more ecologically responsible practices in the sports industry. Although King says coming out publicly as a lesbian was her "longest, hardest journey," she has become an international leader in seeking recognition and equal rights for gays and lesbians.
Life magazine named her one of the 100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century in 1990. In August 2006, the National Tennis Center, home of the U.S. Open, was renamed the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in honor of her contributions to both tennis and society. The Sports Museum of America, which opened in New York earlier this year, contains the Billie Jean King International Women's Sports Center, the nation's first permanent women's sports hall of fame and exhibit.
In her every action, Billie Jean has been a positive role model for girls in sports and in life and has continued to be an outspoken advocate of womenís rights. She has changed everything about women's tennis by increasing prize money and improving playing conditions. Her legacy is not just as a tennis champion but as a pioneer and role model for women everywhere.