by Ryan Jones
Being a woman in the world of sports, both past and present, has been no easy task. Despite the passing of Title IX, a law granting equal opportunity in athletics to males and females, there are still vast discrepancies in pay, less national attention and viewership, and noticeably lesser funding. Despite this, women have thrived in countless sports, sometimes better than men.
With National Women in Sports Day being recognized on Feb. 8, let’s take a look back on some of the most successful athletes in women’s sports of yesterday and today.
Billie Jean King is a former tennis player born in 1943, a full 29 years before Title IX was passed. Growing up, King loved softball, and impressively played with her local 14 to 15-year-old team that won the state championship when she was just 10 years old.
Despite her prowess in softball, King was pushed by her parents to play a more “ladylike” sport. She ended taking up tennis which turned out to be a “match” made in heaven.
After many years of practice and dedication, King won her first singles championship at Wimbledon in 1966 at the age of 23. She went on to hold this title for the next two years, and in 1968, became the number-one ranked women’s tennis player in the world.
King went on to work for the equality of her fellow women in the sports world; she faced discrimination in sports more so than many of her peers as she herself is a lesbian.
In 1973, King threatened to sit out from the U.S. Open until there was equal pay given. This led to it being the first major sports tournament to offer equal prize money to both men and women.
In May of 1973, former male Wimbledon champion Bobby Riggs claimed that men were superior to women in sports, and intended to prove it by beating King. She accepted the challenge, where easily defeated Riggs in straight sets in front of a television audience estimated at 50 million. This impressive defeat inspired women around the world that they can be great as well, and certainly inspired this next female athlete.
Over the past 15 years, an American male has not won a single major in tennis, and only two have appeared in the championship match since. In that same time span, an American woman, Serena Williams, has been absolutely dominating the game of tennis.
Growing up, Williams and her four siblings lived in Compton, California. At the time, Compton possessed the highest crime rates in California and also held the highest per-capita murder rate in the U.S. On top of her life in the violent city, getting into professional tennis as an African American woman has a huge obstacle that Serena Williams would have to overcome.
After getting her chance in the game of tennis, Williams never looked back. Since 2003, the last year an American male won the U.S. Open, Serena Williams has accumulated an astounding 13 Grand Slam solo titles, paired with three gold medals in the Olympics and eight doubles championships. In layman’s terms, Serena Williams has single-handedly outperformed all American male tennis players throughout her impressive career while solidifying her spot as one of the greatest female athletes of all time.
Despite the difficulty women still face in the world of sports today, athletes like Billie Jean King and Serena Williams have thrived in the face of adversity and continue to pave the way for many more talented women in sports. The duo of tennis stars from the past and present both faced innumerable obstacles on their rise to the top, and both overcame them, showing a tremendous amount of courage and inspiring many in the process.
Through their countless accolades and even more impressive determination, King and Williams have given a voice to and opened the door for others and truly embodied a movement for equal rights in all fields of life.