More than a tennis legend, Billie Jean King is known for being a champion of women’s equality.
The movie “Battle of the Sexes” tells the true story of the epic tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King. King, at the time, was the number one female tennis player in the world and Riggs was a former Wimbledon tennis champion (1939). But this was no ordinary tennis challenge.
By 1973, the wheels of women’s liberation were beginning to turn. Thirty thousand spectators watched the game in Houston and 90 million viewers were glued to their televisions to watch this unofficial match that would somehow determine if men were indeed inherently superior to women. Billie Jean King trained for it; 55-year-old Riggs did not. It was dubbed “The Battle of the Sexes” and at age 29, King won 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.
Growing up, Billie Jean Moffitt was a talented athlete who excelled in softball. It was her father that suggested she play a more ‘ladylike’ sport such as tennis. For most of the 19th and 20th centuries, only a handful of sports were socially accepted for women: tennis, ice skating, swimming, golf, and horseback riding to name a few. Team sports, aggressive sports, and organized sports were frowned upon.
"I knew after my first lesson what I wanted to do with my life," she said. And by 1966 at age 22, she won her first Wimbledon championship and was ranked number one in the world.
During her tennis career she won the US Open four times and Wimbledon singles six times. Throughout her career, she amassed 39 Grand Slam titles in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles.
After her tennis career, King founded "womenSports" as the first magazine dedicated to women's athletics, World Team Tennis, and the Women’s Sports Foundation; an advocacy non-profit organization for girls and women in sports. She also founded the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and advocated for equal tournament pay. In 1973, the US Open was the first Grand Slam to offer equal pay. Wimbledon was the last, in 2007, with the final credit going to Venus Williams who picked up the torch.
Martina Navratilova said, "She was a crusader fighting a battle for all of us. She was carrying the flag; it was all right to be a jock."
This trading card of Billie Jean King kicks off our series of blogs that will feature women’s tennis players that came before King and are part of the vintage trading card collection. These women played in a time when women were forbidden to earn money from competing, yet they were popular champions that broke barriers. These women helped build the foundation for King, and all those that followed.