Billie Jean King once said, “Face your fears. Live your passions. Be dedicated to your truth,” and that is exactly what the tennis star did on the day of September 20, 1973 when she defeated the unbeatable tennis hustler, Bobby Riggss (Women’s Conference). Named as one of the Most Influential People of the 20th century by Life Magazine, Billie Jean King has not only influenced the world of both women and men’s professional tennis but has paved the way for women to challenge gender social barriers in a patriarchal society. During a time in which women athletes, let alone tennis, were not taken seriously, King decided to use her talents on the tennis courts to change history, firmly believing that actions speak louder than empty words. Most of all, her goal was to end hypocrisy and inequality displayed for women athletes (Women’s Conference).
Modern tennis players are thankful for King’s efforts for equal dignity and salaries regarding professional sports. The legend worked relentlessly on tours across the nation and around the world, proving to the public that tennis was not a country club sport anymore and could be extremely popular even with female players. Specifically, the “Battle of the Sexes” tournament was an imperative victory which imprinted history forever as the main goal of the tournament was that it was designed to show that men will always defeat women in tennis. In fact, this was Bobby Riggs’s intention, who at the time was over 50 years old and still believed that he could defeat a woman no matter how much younger, simply because of her gender (Ware).
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After Margaret Court lost the match to Riggs, Billie Jean King accepted the challenge and was determined to foil Riggs’s and other people’s plans who wanted to see women lose and could not take them seriously in competition. In fact, Riggs misconceptions and gender bias crumbled when he could not keep up with King even at the game’s start. King knew she was making history and therefore, improvised new playing strategies which proved her authenticity and professionalism in the sport. Because of this match, Billie Jean King broke gender barriers, along with others in the future including racial and sexual preference in all sports, and leading every woman closer to gender equality (Women’s Conference).
Looking back, King states, “So much was going on to make women feel things were changing in the world. But in their own lives, not much had changed. There was a disconnect there. That’s what made this match huge. Huge! I just had to win” (Ware). Supporting feminists in the women’s liberation movement, King was the group’s leading morale, passionate about the needed social reforms. In fact, Olympic swimmer Donna de Varona perfectly put King’s achievement at the King-Riggs match into words and said, “It was a worldwide movement that needed a finishing statement. And Billie Jean King gave it to us” (Ware). Referring to the women’s liberation movement, Varona reminded later generations about the intensity of the feminist movement and how King’s victory really brought the inequality and women’s potential into focus on an international level. This became the first, confident support for women to lean on and become inspired by, which further led to women reprioritizing their lives and gaining the courage to stand up for their due rights.
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