Billy Jean King (1943–present)
Billy Jean King was one of the most famous athletes in the world in the 1970s and represents the great strides women's athletics made between 1960 and today.
When she was 11, King joined a tennis tournament at the Los Angeles Tennis Club but was not allowed in the group photo because she was wearing shorts rather than a skirt. By the time she went to college, she had already won the Wimbledon doubles championship but was not granted an athletic scholarship to play at Los Angeles State because such funds were rarely available to women. In 1970, King and eight other top female players boycotted the Pacific Southwest Open over the difference in prize money (male winners got $12,500 in prize money; females only $1,500), thus beginning the popular women's tennis tour. King was named Sports Illustrated's athlete of the year in 1972, the first time a woman had ever received the title.
But it was when she beat Bobby Riggs at a nationally televised tennis match in response to his provocation that females played "so far beneath men's tennis" that she really made her name. King beat Riggs 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. She later said, "I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn't win that match."
"The biggest weapon for opponents of women's rights was always ridicule," Collins says. "Sometimes we fear being made to look silly even more than we fear physical danger. When Billie Jean King played Bobby Riggs at that famous battle of the sexes match, she made it clear from the start that she understood that this was both an important and an extremely cheesy moment in sports history. She laughed at it before anyone else could, totally defined the event on her own terms. And then, of course, she destroyed Riggs on the court.
The woman heralded "the most important woman in American history"