11-22-1943

Billie Jean King

BILLIE JEAN KING, tennis champion and feminist icon, born; King has been an outspoken advocate against sexism in sports and society. The tennis match for which the public best remembers her is the “Battle of the Sexes” in 1973, in which she defeated Bobby Riggs, a former Wimbledon men’s champion who had been ranked the “World’s Number 1” tennis player for the years 1941, 1946 and 1947. A feature film by the same name (“Battle of the Sexes”) starring Emma Stone and Steve Carrel in the title roles recently opened and portrays the story of the 1973 match between King and serial hustler, Bobby Riggs.

King married Lawrence King in 1965. In 1971, she had an abortion. King said in an interview with 60 Minutes in 1972 that she and her husband were not ready to have children at that time because both were busy with their careers and could not devote time to children.

In 1971, King began an intimate relationship with her secretary Marilyn Barnett. King acknowledged the relationship when it became public in a lawsuit ten years later, becoming the first prominent American athlete to confirm having a gay relationship. King said that she decided to play on the tour in 1982 and 1983 solely because she needed money to pay the attorneys who defended her in that lawsuit and that she really did not want to play at age 38 and 39. In 1987, she divorced Lawrence King. On a PBS program on March 20, 2005, she discussed the fact that her sexual side has been the greatest struggle of her life. She pointed out that she came from a personally conservative background, which worked against her being open about her sexual orientation, as contrasted with less inhibited players such as Martina Navratilova.

Friends with singer Elton John, the song “Philadelphia Freedom” is a tribute to King. On a PBS program, John talked about how he brought a demo copy of the record to play for her right after he had recorded it.

Charles M. Schulz, creator tor of the Peanuts comic strip, was another of King’s admirers and close friends. Schulz referenced King several times in Peanuts over the years. In one strip, Peppermint Patty tells Marcie, “Has anyone ever told you that when you’re mad, you look just like Billie Jean King?”

In 2000, King received an award from the GLAAD, an organization devoted to reducing discrimination against gays, Lesbians and bisexuals, for “furthering the visibility and inclusion of the community in her work.” The award noted her involvement in production and the free distribution of educational films, as well as serving on the boards of several AIDS charities. King currently resides in New York and Chicago with partner Ilana Kloss.