Part 5: Our Hall of Fame
BY Advocate Contributors
March 28 2012 2:00 AM ET
Billie Jean King first exploded onto the tennis scene in the 1960s, winning her first Wimbledon title during her first doubles tournament, and then 20 more Wimbledon titles by the end of the 1970s. In 1971, she was the first female athlete to win more than $100,000 for winning a match, but King knew it was wrong that she and other female players were generally paid less than male players.
She fought Bobby Riggs, one of the top-ranked U.S. players of the 1930s and 1940s to take a stand against sexism and unequal pay in one of the most famed and storied tennis matches of her life, the 1973 "Battle of the Sexes." Though Riggs was past his prime at that point, he claimed that the women's game was inferior, striking a nerve with King. She trounced him, in a tennis match watched by 50 million people around the world. Three years later, King became the first president of the Women's Tennis Association.
King was well accomplished by the arrival of the 1980s, when a palimony lawsuit from a former lover suddenly put her personal life in the spotlight. King, who was married, was having an affair with her assistant. King beat the lawsuit, but it still cost millions in endorsements and lead to a divorce. Despite all she had lost and left to lose, the tennis star decided to host a press conference in 1981 against her lawyer’s wishes to admit to the affair. Now she is one of the most vocal proponents of LGBT people and women in sports from the school level, up to the pros.