King is a civil rights pioneer.
March is Women’s History Month, a celebration of women’s accomplishments that began forty-two years ago as a local event in Santa Rosa, California as Women’s History Week. Billie Jean King is part of that history. King spoke out against sexism in sports in the 1960s. In 1967, King took on the United States Lawn Tennis Association and its policy of paying top players under the table to guarantee their entry into tournaments. King felt the under the table payments practice was corrupt and kept tennis highly elitist.
King and other women players risked their careers to start the first professional women’s tennis tour in 1970. The group had trouble finding a sponsor. In 1964, the United States Surgeon General’s report concluded that cigarette smoking was harmful to a smoker’s health, but Phillip Morris’s Virginia Slims brand was the only company interested in supporting King’s circuit. King’s backers took the money despite the health risks and warnings. King defended the decision saying people could decide whether they smoked. King pushed for equal prize money in the men’s and women’s matches after winning the 1972 U. S. Open. She was paid $15,000 less than the men’s champion Ilie Nastase and threatened to sit out the 1973 U. S. Open if the prize money was not equaled. In 1973, the U. S. Open offered equal prize money for men and women. In 1973, King became the first president of the Women’s Tennis Association, the first women’s union in sports. In 1974, she helped start the Women’s Sports Foundation. Also, that year she helped launch World Team Tennis. King was part of a movement that culminated in getting Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments signed into law by President Richard Nixon. Nixon’s signature gave women equal opportunity in higher education and sports in the United States with men.