Billie Jean King has received the US Presidential Medal of Freedom. She is one of 16 recipients of the nation’s highest civilian honor. A complete list of this year’s recipients is available at the White House Blog.
President Obama made the following statement when naming this year’s winners of the US Presidential Medal of Freedom. “These outstanding men and women represent an incredible diversity of backgrounds. Their tremendous accomplishments span fields from science to sports, from fine arts to foreign affairs. Yet they share one overarching trait: Each has been an agent of change. Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way.”
Billie Jean King is a worthy recipient not only for her own accomplishments as a tennis player, but also for her work in promoting women’s tennis.
Billie Jean King has won 12 major singles titles (including six Wimbledons and four US Opens), 16 major women’s doubles titles, and 11 major mixed doubles titles. She first learned to play tennis on the courts in Long Beach, California. Her game was characterized by an aggressive hard-hitting style. She frequently came to the net.
In spite of her many titles, the public best remembers Billie Jean King for her match with Bobby Riggs in The Battle of the Sexes. Bobby Riggs had made bold claims about the inferiority of the women’s game, having beaten Margaret Court in a previous match. He challenged Billie Jean King to a nationally televised match which she won 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. Still, critics argued that she had the advantage since he was 26 years older.
Billie Jean King Receives US Presidential Medal of Freedom: After Retirement
After retirement from professional competition, Billie Jean King continued to be an advocate for women’s tennis. Before the start of the Open Era, she criticized the Lawn Tennis Association for paying high-caliber players under the table to compete. After the start of the Open Era, she continually campaigned to campaign for equal pay for women in tennis. In 2007, Wimbledon became the last of the major tournaments to award women equal prize money.
Billie Jean King also founded the Women’s Tennis Association, the organizing body of today’s top female players. In 1974, she founded the Women’s Sports Foundation, a non-profit organization which has the mission “To advance the lives of girls and women through sports and physical activity.” She and her ex-husband Lawrence King also founded World Team Tennis in 1973.
Billie Jean King Receives US Presidential Medal of Freedom: Women in Tennis
Billie Jean King, along with legends such as Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, have undoubtedly paved the way for American women in tennis. Since then, women’s tennis has seen champions such as Jennifer Capriati, Monica Seles, Lindsay Davenport, and the ubiquitous Williams Sisters. For more than a decade, Venus and Serena have been a formidable force on the WTA. While Serena has dominated hard courts, Venus has been the undisputed queen of grass until she lost to her sister at this year’s Wimbledon.
With role models such as Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, and Martina Navratilova, girls who may have not have previously considered playing competitive sports would find inspiration in these great American tennis players.
2009 Medal of Freedom Recipients