"Anytime you can achieve equality in any field of endeavor-be it sports or in life-everyone wins." - Billie Jean King
On November 22, 1943, Billie Jean King was born in Long Beach, California. She became number 1 in the World of Women's Tennis while advocating for gender equality, social justice and LGBT rights. As this amazing woman celebrates her 74th birthday, we wish her the best and thank her for her dedication to the sport and her cause.
Billie Jean played softball early on and began playing tennis at age 11. Her earliest win to catch the media's attention came in 1961 when she and Karen Hantze Susman became the youngest pair to win the women's doubles title at Wimbledon. She attended California State University from 1961 to 1964, continuing to compete until she turned professional after becoming number 1 in women's tennis in 1968. She went on to win the US Open in 1972 but told them she would not be back to defend her title until men and women had equal prizes. In 1973, the US Open was the first to offer equal prize money to men and women.
Her success in tennis and in gaining equality caught the attention of a former number 1 player, Bobby Riggs, who challenged her to the "Battle of the Sexes". Bobby made claims about women's tennis being so inferior that even an older male tennis player could beat the top women's tennis player. On September 20, 1973, Billie Jean beat Bobby Riggs helping women's tennis gain acceptance. As her career went on, Billie Jean would be the first female athlete whose homosexuality was known and to aid in the passing of the Title IX legislation ensuring equal federal funding for male and female students.
Billie Jean's fight for equality continues. Young women can prepare themselves to fight for equality by joining their school's debate team for a fun way to expand friendships while improving their public speaking and listening abilities. For more information about school debate please see NYCUDL Girls Debate League.