Tennis legend Billie Jean King (1943-) was born on this day in Long Beach, California. A role model for today's tennis players, she was the first woman athlete to earn $100,000 in prize money in a single year (1971).
"Tennis is a perfect combination of violent action taking place in an atmosphere of total tranquility," observed King, known for her competitive spirit, power-hitting, and net-charging play.
Because tennis is a sport that women can play as well as men, where a woman could "be a champion and a lady at the same time," King was a catalyst for equality and change.
"That's the trouble with this sport," she sparked in an interview. "We've got to get it off the society page and onto the sports page."
In 1973, she demolished male tennis pro Bobbie Riggs, the self-proclaimed "male chauvinist," to win $100,000, the largest purse ever paid for a single tennis match. This hyped "Battle of the Sexes" match was played in front of over 30,000 at the Houston Astrodome and watched by 60 million on worldwide TV.
As Frank Deford of Sports Illustrated put it, "Billie Jean King didn't just raise consciousness, which was the feminist mantra then. No, she absolutely changed consciousness."
King won a record 20 Wimbledon titles, established the first major women's sports magazine, and founded the Women's Tennis Association. Still a strong advocate for women's rights, early in 1999 she urged Wimbledon to pay women winners the same as the men (men = $724,000; women = $651,000.)
"Treating women as less valuable than men generates ill-will that is disproportionate to the amount of money you are saving," she said boldly. In 1987, King was voted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Some losses are merely stepping stones.