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Billie Jean King
Tennis Champion and Activist

As one of the 20th century’s most respected women, Billie Jean King has long been a champion for social change and equality. King created new inroads for women in and out of sports during her legendary career and she continues to make her mark today.

King, one of the most illustrious and celebrated tennis players in history, is recognized for spearheading the women's movement in tennis and for her life-long struggle for equality in women's tennis. King empowered women and educated men when she defeated Bobby Riggs in one of the greatest moments in sports history – the Battle of the Sexes in 1973.

In 1990, Life magazine named her one of the "100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century." In 1994, she ranked No. 5 on Sports Illustrated’s “Top 40 Athletes” list for significantly altering or elevating sports in the last four decades.

King has been heralded as an ardent defender of equal rights for all humankind. She founded the Women’s Sports Foundation in 1974 to advance the lives of girls and women through sports and physical activity and, in 1987, established WTT Charities, Inc. to promote health, fitness, education and social change.

In 1998, King became the first athlete to receive the Elizabeth Blackwell Award. In February 1999 King won the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage for her fight to bring equality to women's sports. She has been the recipient of a number of tennis awards but her biggest honor in tennis came on August 28, 2006, when the National Tennis Center, home of the U. S. Open, was renamed the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, in honor of King’s contributions to tennis, sports and society both on and off the court.

Off the court, King remains active in a number of important causes. She serves as a director on several boards including the Elton John AIDS Foundation and the Women’s Sports Foundation.

King remains active in the sport she loves. She has coached Olympic and Fed Cup teams and led the U.S. squad to four Olympic medals and the 1976, 1996, 1999 and 2000 Fed Cup titles.

On the court, King won a record 20 Wimbledon titles with six of them in singles (1966-67-68-72-73-75), won the U.S. Open four times (1967-71-72-74), the French Open in 1972 and the Australian Open in 1968. She was ranked No. 1 in the world five times between 1966 and 1972 and was in the Top 10 a total of 17 years (beginning in 1960). King is the only woman to win U.S. Open singles titles on all 4 surfaces on which it has been played (grass, clay, carpet, and hard). She’s also one of only eight women to hold a singles title in each of the Grand Slam events.

In 1971, King was the first woman athlete to win more than $100,000 in any sport. In 1974 she became the first woman to coach a professional team with men when she served as player/coach for the Philadelphia Freedoms of World Team Tennis.

She is a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the National Women's Hall of Fame. She is the founder of the Women's Tennis Association and the Women's Sports Foundation.

How do you define leadership?
Leadership has many looks and frequently leaders emerge in response to specific situations. But, in every case, leaders lead, guide and inspire and that's what sets them apart.

Do you think women lead differently than men?
Yes. Women are more relationship based and men are more linear. Women tend to be more horizontal in their positioning for power, where men are more vertical.

Who is your role model?
I have had several role models throughout my life, many of whom are from my formative years. My parents (Bill and Betty Moffitt) and my brother, R. J., have always been and will continue to be my roles models. I also carry with me everyday lessons I learned from my first coach, Clyde Walker, Rev. Bob Richards, tennis great Alice Marble and the works and actions of Harriet Tubman.

How did you get where you are today? Can you trace it to a certain moment, experience or personality trait?
There are several key moments in my life. I would not have played tennis if my friend Susan Williams had not asked me to go play tennis when we were in fifth grade. That invitation changed my life forever. My first lesson at a public park in Long Beach, Calif., with Clyde Walker, made me realize that not only did I really love tennis, but that I wanted to be the best in the world. And, at age 12 I had an epiphany that I knew I wanted to make a difference in the world. That was the day when I became an activist.

Was there a person or a place in your background that nurtured your leadership potential?
I am not sure there was a specific person or incident that nurtured my leadership. But, I do know that followers choose leaders. I became president of my school's Glee Club not because I had the best voice, because I definitely did not, but I became president because the other members chose me. Leaders are chosen to lead and true leaders accept the challenge.

What's the toughest task you've ever had to perform?
Talking with my parents about my sexual orientation was definitely one of the hardest things I have done in my life.

 
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