Billie Jean King



Athlete

b. November 22, 1943

"I think self-awareness is probably the most important thing towards being a champion." 
    
Life Magazine named Billie Jean King one of the "100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century." A tennis champion and an outspoken advocate for gender equality in sports, King has become an icon and legend for her contributions to the advancement of women's sports.

Despite her mother's attempts to steer her towards more feminine pursuits, King showed an early propensity for sports. She purchased her first tennis racquet at age 12 and demonstrated exceptional aptitude for game.  During her first lesson,  King recalls thinking "I knew I'd found what I wanted to do for the rest of my life."

In 1961, at age 17, King won her first grand slam title at Wimbledon in the women's doubles tournament. She quickly became known for her aggressive style and personality. In 1966, she won her first of 12 Grand Slam singles titles.

An outspoken advocate against sexism in sports, King hoped "to use sports for social change." She campaigned for equal prize awards after receiving $15,000 less in prize money than her male counterpart in the 1972 U.S. Open.  In 1973, King threatened to boycott the tournament. The following year, the U.S. Open became the first major tournament to award equal prize money to male and female champions.

King became the first woman to defeat a former male Wimbledon Champion in "The Battle of the Sexes." The Women's Tennis Association named her its first president and in 1974, King co-founded WomenSports Magazine and began the Women's Sports Foundation.

King struggled to come to terms with her sexuality. During her 22-year marriage she had an intimate affair with her assistant, Marilyn Barnett. Pressured by the threat of losing her career, King remained in the closet until 1981, when Barnett sued her for alimony. Though King won the lawsuit, she lost almost all of her commercial sponsors.

King came out publicly in 1988. Since then, she has helped further the visibility and inclusion of the LGBT community. She currently serves on the Board of the Elton John AIDS Foundation and National AIDS Fund.