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Billie Jean King

#womenshistoryProfilesMarch 21, 2022

Regarded as the number one tennis player in the world in her time, Billie Jean King’s advocacy for gender equality and social justice were fundamental to her survival in the sport at a time when women were not only underrepresented in sports, but underpaid and disrespected.

Winner of 39 Grand Slam titles, King was one of the most formidable female athletes of her time and she knew her sport better than most. The sports industrial complex, however, was a different story. King was treated differently than her male counterparts, from the questioning and scrutiny she received by the press and the public to the disparities between her award winnings and sponsorships and those of the top male tennis players of the day.

When she won the 1972 U.S. Open, King’s award was $15,000 less than the male title champion. In response, King made it clear that she would not compete in the tournament again unless the prize money was equal. The U.S. Open conceded and began offering equal award money to both male and female tournament champions in 1973.

That same year, she became the first president of the Women’s Tennis Association and founded the Women’s Sports Foundation the next year. Shortly after, King became league commissioner of the World Tennis Team in 1982 and a major owner just two years later.

King expanded her activism beyond the world of sports when she co-founded the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative, which focuses on creating workplaces that are free of discrimination and inequality. King’s vision is a world where people can bring their most authentic selves to the workplace every single day through a listen, learn, and lead approach.

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