On September 20, 1973, in a highly publicized “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match, top women’s player Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs, a former No. 1 ranked men’s player.. Here are five facts you didn’t know about Billy Jean King.
She Remained Close Friends With Bobby Riggs Despite drawing in over 90 million viewers to see their feud on the tennis court, Billy Jean King and her Battle of the Sexes opponent Bobby Riggs remained close friends until his death in 1995 from prostate cancer. King described how she saw Riggs as kind of a tragic figure back in 1973. “He never really got the attention he deserved, and I knew that he was craving this attention, like nobody respected him when he was No. 1 in the world.”
Elton John Wrote a Song About Her Pop singer Elton John, along with Bernie Taupin, his partner, wrote “Philadelphia Freedom” in 1975 in honor of King. She belonged to a tennis group called the Philadelphia Freedoms, and he told her that he was writing a song for her as a tribute. In a 2015 article detailing their friendship at the time is this interesting nugget: “John told King ahead of time that he was penning a track in tribute to her. The World Team Tennis squad she fronted in Philly was an inspiration, as John followed the team’s movements with aplomb, delighted by the sport and by his winsome friend.” To this day, King and John remain friends.
King Lost Her Endorsements When She Came Out King made it clear that coming out as a gay woman had a shocking and immediate effect on her life. “This is the biggest struggle I’ve had in my entire life,” she detailed. “I told my PR person and I told my lawyer, ‘I want to have a press conference and I’m going to tell the truth.’ They said ‘You cannot do that. No one’s ever done that.’ I said, ‘I don’t care what people have done before me.'”King went on to describe how immediate that backlash was: “The truth always sets you free, [but] I lost all my money in 24 hours. Every single endorsement I had, I lost it in 24 hours. But it’s OK. It’s like you just start over.”
Barack Obama Recognized Her Greatness King was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2009 for her activism for women and the LGBTQ community. Additionally, Obama made King a member of the presidential delegation for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Her visible involvement was interpreted as a political commentary on Russia’s extreme anti-LGBTQ laws.
She Holds a Number of Incredible Tennis Records King was one of the original female forces who completely shook up the world of tennis. As a former World No 1 ranked female tennis player, King won an inspirational 39 Grand Slam titles (12 in singles, 16 in doubles and 11 in mixed doubles). She also won the singles at the first ever WTA Tour Championships, while being on the winning US team for seven Federation Cups and nine Wightman Cups.