because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Billie Jean King

From 1961 to 1980, Billie Jean King was one of the most remarkable tennis players in the world.  She won no fewer than thirty-nine Grand Slams (singles, doubles and mixed doubles) and in 1973, became famous for beating former Wimbledon champion Bobby Riggs for a prize of $100,000 (winner-take-all) in an exhibition called "The Battle of the Sexes."

Outed -- without her prior knowledge or consent -- first for having had an abortion (in 1971) and then for being a lesbian (in 1981), King was dropped like a hot potato by the companies that had been paying her for her endorsement and even her fans, by and large, were stunned and unsupportive.  Yet King faced it all down alone, including a painful and public palimony suit brought by her former partner.

But, in spite of it all, King founded the Women's Tennis Association and the Women's Sports Foundation, wound up owning World Team Tennis, was the first tennis player named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year (1972),  was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame (1987), and received the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom (2009) for her work advocating for women's rights and the rights of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgendered people.

Still, having won more awards and honors than most celebrities -- sports or otherwise -- ever dream of, and while it's true that King was "helped" to find her ultimate in-your-face-ness, it was always in there.  For example, in 1975, she described to a Sports Illustrated writer the "Get-It Quotient," which she explained this way: "There's a lot of ugly fellas among the male athletes, but just because they're athletes, they get [sex] all the time, don't they? Now, never mind prize money and publicity and all that. When we reach the point where all the women athletes are getting it, too, regardless of their looks, just like the fellas, then we've really arrived."  Of course, that was long before she knew she'd win the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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