Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History, Volume XVIII

Monday, November 10, 2008
This is Billie Jean King. She was an extraordinarily gifted tennis player in the 1970's, and is the epitome of an ill-behaved woman.

Consider these facts:

- First female athlete in any sport to earn more than $100,000 in a single season in 1971.

- First woman to coach a co-ed team in professional sports - the Philadelphia Freedoms in 1974. And I love the song.

- Only woman to win U.S. singles title on grass, clay, carpet and hard surface courts.

- First female professional athlete to come out as gay in 1981.

- First woman commissioner in professional sports history for World TeamTennis in 1984.

- One of six inaugural inductees into the Court of Fame at the USTA National Tennis Center in 2003.

- First woman to have a major sports venue named in her honor in the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in 2006.

All of these accomplishments are noteworthy, but my own memory of Billie Jean revolves around the 1973 "Battle of the Sexes" against Bobby Riggs. I was 8 years old, and I remember watching this event on television. I remember cheering with my Hot Sister when she won, and I remember my dad, a self-identified Male Chauvinist Pig, commenting, "Of course she won. She's young and strong - at the top of her game. He's 55 years old, ancient for a professional athlete. He was outgunned all the way." Her accomplishment became my accomplishment, and the accomplishment of all my little girlfriends, and I remember how very proud we were.

As an adult, I think I admire her most for her work to ensure women athletes receive comparable prize money with men. This was a clear case of equal pay for equal work, and she put her money where her mouth was on this topic, refusing to play in the U.S. Open unless the prize money was equal. She also fiercely supported Title IX, and I now realize one of the reasons she chose to participate in the game against Riggs. After the match, she told Newsweek "I just had to play . . . Title IX had just passed, and I . . . wanted to change the hearts and minds of people to match the legislation."

She has spent her entire life fighting for gender equality, not only in tennis and sports, but in all walks of life.

You did your job well, Ms. King, and your tenacity and courage in the face of incredible misogyny is an inspiration. You're an ill-behaved woman all the way, and I'm grateful for your leadership and example.

2 comments:

Jeri said...

I remember watching that match, broadcast live, and I was so pleased that she beat the snot out of him.

Way to misbehave, Billie Jean King. :)

Janiece Murphy said...

beat the snot out of him.

That she did. Hehe.