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Tennis great, Billie Jean King, born November 22, 1943, in Long Beach, California is a retired tennis player from the United States. Billy Jean King was the first female athlete to earn $100,000 in one year. She won 12 Grand Slam singles titles, 16 Grand Slam women's doubles titles, and 11 Grand Slam mixed doubles titles. King has been an outspoken advocate against sexism in sports and society.
The tennis match for which the public best remembers her is the "Battle of the Sexes" in 1973, in which she defeated Bobby Riggs, a former Wimbledon men's champion who had been one of the leading male players in the 1930s and 1940s.
King is the founder of the Women's Tennis Association, the Women's Sports Foundation, and World Team Tennis, which she founded with her former husband, Lawrence King.
Billie Jean King was born Billie Jean Moffitt. She was born into a conservative Methodist family, the daughter of a firefighter father and housewife mother. Her younger brother Randy Moffitt grew up to become a professional baseball player, pitching for 12 years in the major leagues for the San Francisco Giants, Houston Astros, and Toronto Blue Jays.
King attended Long Beach Polytechnic High School. She then attended California State University at Los Angeles (CSULA) because her parents could not afford Stanford or UCLA. Even at CSULA, King had to work two jobs to pay her way.
She married Lawrence King in Long Beach, California on September 17, 1965. In 1971, she had an abortion, which was revealed to the public in a Ms. Magazine article in 1972 by Lawrence without consulting Billie Jean in advance. King said in her 1982 autobiography that she decided to have an abortion because she believed her marriage was not, at that time, solid enough to bring a child into her family. Billie Jean and Lawrence divorced in 1987.
By 1968, King realized that she was interested in women, and in 1971, King began an intimate relationship with her secretary, Marilyn Barnett. King acknowledged the relationship when it became public in a May 1981 palimony lawsuit filed by Barnett, becoming the first prominent professional female athlete to come out as gay. King said that she had wanted to retire from competitive tennis in 1981 but could not afford to because of the lawsuit. "Within 24 hours [of the lawsuit being filed], I lost all my endorsements; I lost everything. I lost $2 million at least, because I had longtime contracts. I had to play just to pay for the lawyers. In three months I went through $500,000. I was in shock. I didn't make $2 million in my lifetime, so it's all relative to what you make." King said in 1998 that Martina Navratilova was not supportive when King was outed, resulting in their relationship having a "very bad five years." Speaking about the lawsuit in 2007, 26 years after it was filed, King said, "It was very hard on me because I was outed and I think you have to do it in your own time. Fifty per cent of gay people know who they are by the age of 13, I was in the other 50%. I would never have married Larry if I’d known. I would never have done that to him. I was totally in love with Larry when I was 21." Concerning the personal cost of concealing her sexuality for so many years, King said,
I wanted to tell the truth but my parents were homophobic and I was in the closet. As well as that, I had people tell me that if I talked about what I was going through, it would be the end of the women's tour. I couldn't get a closet deep enough. I've got a homophobic family, a tour that will die if I come out, the world is homophobic and, yeah, I was homophobic. If you speak with gays, bisexuals, lesbians and transgenders, you will find a lot of homophobia because of the way we all grew up. One of my big goals was always to be honest with my parents and I couldn't be for a long time. I tried to bring up the subject but felt I couldn't. My mother would say, "We’re not talking about things like that," and I was pretty easily stopped because I was reluctant anyway. I ended up with an eating disorder that came from trying to numb myself from my feelings. I needed to surrender far sooner than I did. At the age of 51, I was finally able to talk about it properly with my parents and no longer did I have to measure my words with them. That was a turning point for me as it meant I didn't have regrets any more.
King currently resides in New York and Chicago with partner Ilana Kloss.