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Cutting class for good reason, Kristy Pigeon steps out with Original 9
“Gladys called me and said, ‘I’m going to have a tournament at the same time. I want you to come and play because there is going to be some earth-shattering things that happen there. Can you come; can you leave school?,’” recalled Pigeon.
Published Sep 22, 2020
For more on the WTA's Original 9, read our write-ups on each of tennis' trailblazing women.
If you want to have a cocktail at lunch, go with vodka.
Little nuggets of advice from Gladys Heldman would come in handy for an impressionable Kristy Pigeon. In her early years as a professional tennis player, Pigeon like many others, felt the cloud of pay disparity raining over female competitors, yet wondered how it could be addressed.
“We felt that we were equally as entertaining and we should receive equal prize money for a number of reasons, not just because of the crowd appeal, but just because it is the right thing,” Pigeon told Tennis Channel. “And we would get together, we would have big group discussions on the lawn, and everyone would join and say, ‘well how are we going to do this?’”
Pigeon, who won junior Wimbledon in 1968, hadn’t exactly carved out a plan to continue playing as an adult. The lefty was inspired by Heldman’s moxie, drawn to her ability to take the ball in her own hands. Encouraged by the accomplished businesswoman to write a letter to Joe Cullman, CEO of Philip Morris, Pigeon soon arrived at a crossroads: return to college or stick with tennis? With a phone call from Heldman revealing she had plans in motion to stage her own women’s-only event, Pigeon's path was certified.
“Gladys called me and said, ‘I’m going to have a tournament at the same time. I want you to come and play because there is going to be some earth-shattering things that happen there. Can you come; can you leave school?,’” recalled Pigeon. “So I gave up going to class and went to Houston where the tournament was organized with the other girls and we had some serious talks about which way we could go.”
Cullman would ultimately pull the trigger, arranging for his company’s Virginia Slims line to sponsor Heldman’s groundbreaking tournament. While some players had initial concerns about athletes aligning with smoking, Pigeon didn’t view the partnership through that lens.
“It wasn’t so much that we were promoting smoking. They never asked us to do that,” said Pigeon. “We were promoting the attitude that was later developed by the WTA that women are strong and strong is beautiful. Over and out.”
The fortitude of Pigeon and eight other women officially emerged on September 23, 1970, when the Original 9 signed symbolic $1 contracts with Heldman at the Houston Racquet Club. Fifty years later, WTA players lead the charge as the world’s Top 9-highest paid female athletes. And on Monday, Pigeon and the fellow trailblazers she banded together with were announced on the 2021 International Tennis Hall of Fame ballot—the first group in history to be nominated.
If that’s not worth toasting a Cosmopolitan to, what is?