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The Physical Activism of Billie Jean King

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Abstract

Even the most cursory glance at the accolades awarded to Billie Jean King over the years demonstrates that this is a woman who deserves a prominent place in the pantheon of sporting greats. In a tennis career spanning four decades, she amassed 39 Grand Slam titles, including 20 Wimbledon and 13 US Open crowns. Yet, her legacy transcends the sports world. ‘Very likely,’ mused venerated sportswriter Frank Deford in 1975, she ‘will go down in history as the most significant athlete of this century. That is not said lightly. But then few athletes ever reach beyond their games to exert any dominion over the rest of society.’1 Indeed, a recent spate of tributes indicates the depth and breadth of her influence. Of the 100 Most Important Americans of the Twentieth Century, for instance, Life magazine included just four athletes: Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, and King. In 2006, the United States Tennis Association rededicated its National Tennis facility as the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre. Host to the US Open, the New York site is the largest and most eminent sports venue named for a woman. Three years later, President Obama decorated King with the Medal of Freedom, ‘America’s highest civilian honor … awarded to individuals who make an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.’2

Keywords

  • Sexual Prejudice
  • Woman Athlete
  • Prize Money
  • Sport Illustrate
  • Grand Slam

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Notes

  1. 3. Angela Lumpkin, Women’s Tennis: A Historical Documentary of the Players and Their Game (Troy, NY: The Whitson Publishing Company, 1981), 93–4.

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  2. 4. Billie Jean King with Cynthia Starr, We Have Come a Long Way: The Story of Women’s Tennis (New York: Regina Ryan, 1988), 120.

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  3. 5. Billie Jean King with Frank Deford, Billie Jean (New York: Viking Press, 1982), 26–7.

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  4. 6. Selena Roberts, A Necessary Spectacle: Billie Jean King, Bobby Riggs, and the Tennis Match that Leveled the Game (New York: Crown Publishers, 2005), 180.

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  5. 7. Grace Lichtenstein, A Long Way, Baby: The Inside Story of the Women in Pro Tennis (Greenwich, CT: Fawcett, 1974), 54.

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  6. 8. Richard Johnson, Deborah Chambers, Parvati Raghuram, and Estella Tincknell, The Practice of Cultural Studies (London: Sage, 2004).

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  7. 9. Billie Jean King with Kim Chapin, Billie Jean (New York: Harper & Row, 1974); King with Deford, Billie Jean; King with Starr, We Have Come a Long Way; Billie Jean King with Christine Brennan, Pressure Is a Privilege: Lessons I’ve Learned from Life and the Battle of the Sexes (New York: LifeTime Media, 2008); Roberts, A Necessary Spectacle; Lichtenstein, A Long Way, Baby; Lumpkin, Women’s Tennis; Francene Sabin, Women Who Win (New York: Dell, 1975); Bobby Riggs with George McGann, Court Hustler (New York: Signet, 1974); Ted Tinling, Tinling: Sixty Years in Tennis (London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1983); Bud Collins and Zander Hollander, eds., Bud Collins’ Tennis Encyclopedia (Detroit: Visible Ink, 1997). For an account of King’s rankings, records, and honors see Dennis J. Phillips, Women Tennis Stars: Biographies and Records of Champions, 1800s to Today (Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 2009).

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  8. 26. Robert Lipsyte, SportsWorld: An American Dreamland (New York: Quadrangle Books, 1975), 223–4.

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  9. 66. Hollis Elkins, ‘Time for a Change: Women’s Athletics and the Women’s Movement,’ Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 3 (1978): 23–4; Roberts, A Necessary Spectacle, 159; Gloria Steinem, ‘Introduction,’ in The Decade of Women: A Ms. History of the Seventies in Words and Pictures, ed. Susanne Levine and Harriet Lyons (New York: Paragon, 1980), 19; Jan Felshin, ‘The Social Anomaly of Women in Sports,’ The Physical Educator, 30 (October 1973), 124.

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  10. 74. Nancy E. Spencer, ‘Reading Between the Lines: A Discursive Analysis of the Billie Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs “Battle of the Sexes,” ‘ Sociology of Sport Journal, 17 (2000): 399. See also Spencer, ‘Once Upon a Subculture: Professional Women’s Tennis and the Meaning of Style, 1970–1974,’ Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 21 (1997): 363–78

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  11. 82. Stephanie L. Twin, Out of the Bleachers: Writings on Women and Sport (Old Westbury, NY: The Feminist Press, 1979), xxxvi, xxxix.

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© 2011 Jaime Schultz

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Schultz, J. (2011). The Physical Activism of Billie Jean King. In: Wagg, S. (eds) Myths and Milestones in the History of Sport. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230320819_11

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230320819_11

  • Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, London

  • Print ISBN: 978-1-349-31693-9

  • Online ISBN: 978-0-230-32081-9

  • eBook Packages: Palgrave History CollectionHistory (R0)