50 Years, 50 Heroes: Billie Jean King, 1981

by: Jon Levey | December 04, 2018

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Billie Jean King continues to fight for women's rights. (AP)

For our sixth annual Heroes Issue, we’ve selected passages from the last 50 years of Tennis Magazine and TENNIS.com—starting in 1969 and ending in 2018—to highlight 50 worthy heroes. Each passage acknowledges the person as they were then; each subsequent story catches up with the person, or highlights their impact, as they are now. It is best summed up with a quote from the great Arthur Ashe, that was featured on the cover of the November/December issue of this magazine in 2015: “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”


7 Risky Predictions for 1981: 7. Billie Jean King will lead a fight to have more women in key USTA roles. She will want seats for women on the USTA management committee and a women in a position that, at some future date, could make her the first of her sex to be president of the association. - Bob Briner / February 1981

Pioneering the WTA Tour. Title IX. Battle of the Sexes. The list of accomplishments is legendary. After a lifetime of contributions to sports, women’s rights and social issues that earned her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, it would be appropriate to excuse Billie Jean King if, at 75, she decided to rest on her laurels. But the tireless advocate knows no other way.

Her latest project, Here To Create Change, is a collaboration with shoe and apparel giant Adidas that tackles an issue near and dear to King’s heart: increased participation in female athletics. Launched around the start of the 2018 US Open on Women’s Equality Day, the initiative brought to light that in New York City alone, girls are dropping out of sports at more than  double the rate of boys. The disparity increases with age: by 19, only 29 percent of girls—versus 56 percent of boys—will play any sport at all. Holding King up as a prime example of the impact sport can have on women’s lives, the goal of the campaign is to inspire people around the world to find solutions to the availability problems faced by young girls.

“I am proud to collaborate with Adidas on addressing today’s barriers,” says King. “Together, we can achieve more progress, equality and access for everyone in tennis and beyond.”

To mark the start of the campaign, Adidas released 300 pairs of an updated, limited-edition Billie Jean King Speedfactory AM4BJK shoe—an homage to the suede blue footwear she wore 45 years ago in her iconic match against Bobby Riggs. There will also be a series of print and video ads, as well as a social campaign (#CreatorsUnite) to encourage others to join King and other Adidas athletes to take up the cause. It’s King’s latest mission for change, and likely not her last.

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