Six Reasons We’d Crown Billie Jean King

Including a message for Portland from the one-time tennis champ

By Fiona McCann April 30, 2015

Laryssa Husiak as Billie Jean King in Boom Arts' She is King. Photo credit: Katherine Brook

Tennis champion and equal rights campaigner Billie Jean King has a message for Portland—go see the Boom Arts play about her that opens on May 28. And in case you need reminding, here are five other reasons we think She is King:

When King played tennis in the seventies, there was major disparity between the prize money allotted to the men’s games and the women’s games. When King won the US Open in 1972, she received $15,000 less in prize money than her male counterpart, Ilie Nastase, did for winning the men’s prize that same year. So King announced she would not play in the competition again unless the prize money was equal for men and women. The following year, the US Open offered equal prize money for men and women, becoming the first big tournament to do so. 15–Love.

In 1973, Billie Jean King faced off against self-proclaimed male chauvinist pig Bobby Riggs in a nationally televised game dubbed the “Battle of the Sexes”. There was $100,000 of prize money on the table. But King was also playing for all women athletes, indeed all women, and her victory over Riggs helped a wider audience take female athletes seriously. 30–Love.

She made it cool to be a female athlete

Billie Jean King made it cool—even desirable—to be a female athlete at a time when women’s bodies were perceived by many as designed solely for male admiration or childbirth. King made exertion on the physical field an asset, and revolutionized the notion of what women could accomplish in the sporting arena. She also set up the Women’s Sports Foundation, a nonprofit with the mission to “advance the lives of girls and women through sport and physical activity.” 40–Love.

King was outed in 1981 after her former lover, Marilyn Barnett, filed a lawsuit looking for a share of King’s assets. She said she was unprepared at the time to make her sexual orientation public, claiming she “couldn't get a closet deep enough." Barnett’s move made King the first publicly gay professional female athlete.  Since then, she’s been a vocal supporter of LGBT rights, and was appointed by Barack Obama to represent the United States at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in a move that was read as a message to Putin’s anti-gay administration. Game...

Speaking of Obama, he gave her a medal in 2009—specifically the Presidential Medal of Freedom—as an “agent of change.” “With Billy Jean King pushing us, the road ahead will be smoother for women, the future will be brighter for LGBT Americans and our natio’s commitment to equality will be stronger for all,” read the citation as Obama hung the medal around her neck. Take that, naysayers. Set...

...and Match!

Boom Arts presents She is King  at CoHo Theatre from May 28-June 7

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