Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Take A Bow Billie Jean!

photo by Jonathan Fickies/

Billie Jean King, tennis champion and crusader for equality, was honored on Monday night by the U.S. Tennis Association. They attached her name to the national tennis center, site of the U.S. Open. It' s a tribute well deserved and a long time in coming.

King was largely responsible for the women having their own tennis tour. Through most of her career, womens tennis wasn't much more than a sideshow with ridiculously low prize earning opportunities as compared to the men players. She and 8 other women stepped away from the establishment and each signed a $1 contract with Virginia Slims and started their own tour. Thanks to BJK, players like Navratilova, Evert, Graf, Seles, and the Williams sisters have made a fortune playing the game they love. And women have had more opportunities available to them in the world of sport.

But BJK took it a step further when she accepted the 1973 challenge of former men's champion, Bobby Riggs. "Sugar Daddy" Riggs once said infamously, "Girls play a nice game of tennis - FOR GIRLS." With the weight of the womens movement on her shoulders, BJK creamed Riggs in straight sets in front of 30,0000 people at the Astrodome and a national tv audience.

Later in 1980, BJK, who was married then, was sued by her former hairdresser and friend, Marilyn Barnett for alimony. It was shocking at the time. BJK's sponsors began to drop her. Facing the end of her playing days, she lost her financial security. And BJK was blackballed by many in the tennis establishment. She responded by becaming an activist on behalf of the LGBT community.

When I think of equality, Billie Jean always comes to mind. Her stature as a prominent figure transcends the world of sport. She's an icon. And having her name (a woman's name no less) on our national tennis center will serve as a reminder of her legacy.

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