Women’s History Month – Billie Jean King

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Women’s History Month – Billie Jean King

By: Maggie Barlow

As Women’s History Month continues, I would like to talk about a woman who has not only inspired me but also many female athletes throughout her lifetime. Women’s history month is about focusing on the women who beat the odds, who fought to make our lives easier or even just changed our lives in some minor detail. Billie Jean King did just that!

Billie Jean King, seen here in 1977, learned to play tennis on the public courts near her Long Beach, Calif., home.

Billie Jean King, seen here in 1977, learned to play tennis on the public courts near her Long Beach, Calif., home.

Billie Jean was born in 1943 in Long Beach, California. She was born to a very conservative Methodist family, and her younger brother turned out to be a major league pitcher proving athletes run in the family. From a young age, she loved tennis and learned how to play the sport on free public courts, one of which that would later be named after her. Billie Jean made her first debut in a grand slam at just 15, making it to the finals where she lost. Her mental and physical toughness took her far in her career, racking up over $1,000,000 in winnings. Although this may seem like a substantial amount of money, compared to the men’s winnings it was not. Billie Jean King was never one to deal with inequality and fought hard to make women’s sports equal, or as close as she could get it to be equal.

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Her biggest claim to fame is when she participated in the match against Bobby Riggs, also called “The battle of the sexes.” Riggs was a number one male tennis players in the 40s, and claimed at 55 he could beat any top female tennis player due to his belief that women were just inferior to men. Unfortunately, that ideology was not uncommon when it came to women in sports during that time. Billie Jean had turned down Riggs offers before but decided that now was the time to take him on, playing for $100,000–winner take all. Much to Riggs, and everyone else’s surprise, Billie Jean went on to win the match, proving that women weren’t inferior to men, and opening everyone’s eyes to the world of Women’s sports.

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Billie Jean King had a successful career over her 20+ years of playing competitive tennis, standing up for women athletes, as well as the LGBTQ community. Billie Jean King not only helped equality when she was playing but later on helped Venus Williams make the step toward equal prize money for men and women. She is an inspiration to all athletes no matter what the gender, showing that true dedication and mental and physical toughness can earn you success and respect.

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