We love Emma Stone in the new biopic Battle of the Sexes, a film that illustrates a famous tennis match between Billie-Jean King and Bobby Riggs (played by Steve Carell). The tennis court was split on gender lines, and as the most watched tennis game in history, the results had huge consequences. But what about Billie-Jean herself? Turns out she was a badass icon on and off the court. Here’s why.
The match wasn’t about proving women are better– but equal
Shut it, “men’s rights activists.” King won the US Open in 1972 but the payout was $15,000 less than the guy who one the men’s match. So she said she’d boycott the match next year if they didn’t get their act together and pay up. And you know what? In 1973, the following year, the US Open became the first major tournament to offer equal prize money for men and women.
She wasn’t just woke to the gender gap, but the color gap, too
“By 12 I had an epiphany about trying to change tennis. Because I looked around and I saw that everyone who plays wears white socks, white shoes, a white tennis dress or shorts, and they’re all white. My question to myself, as a 12-year-old, was: where is everybody else? There are no people of colour. Something’s not right,” King told The Guardian.
She was outed as gay by an ex-partner, and she faced it head-on
No one wants to be pulled out of the closet when the time isn’t right. And there’s perhaps nothing worse than being outed by an ex to your family, friends and fans, at the height of your career. King had maintained a relationship with her secretary for years, and when they broke up, things got messy. Her ex tried suing her, and in the process, exposed to the world that the highest profile female athlete in the world was gay. She lost her sponsorships overnight and kept winning tournaments just to pay the lawyers. In her single-minded focus and love for the game, she faced the issue head on and called a press conference to confirm the rumors true, despite being told by everyone to keep it under wraps. An indomitable woman.
And that made her the first prominent out lesbian sports star
Since then, she’s not only served as an icon for us all, but has done good work for LGBTQ activism as well. On August 12, 2009, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama for her work advocating for the rights of women and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.
If you liked Battle of the Sexes, you should check out our list of the top 10 movies about queer women!