Throughout her life, Billie Jean King has earned high-profile accolades ranging from the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year to the Arthur Ashe Courage Award to the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
So when she refers to a recognition as “a true honor,” you know it means something really special.
That was the case when the US Open announced King would be the face of the tournament’s 2023 theme art commemorating the 50th anniversary of its decision to award equal prize money to women and men.
Upon the release of the design which utilized a throwback late 60’s/early 70’s motif, King took to Twitter to express her appreciation:
A true honor to be featured on the 2023 @usopen theme art, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of equal prize money at the tournament.— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) March 14, 2023
Camila Pinheiro from Brazil is the brilliant artist. #USOpen https://t.co/6oSNybnnoO
The tennis balls inside her iconic glasses were an especially nice touch, and capture what her competitive mindset must have been when she looked across the court to size up Margaret Court or Bobby Riggs.
In addition to being a tennis icon, King was largely responsible for the US Open becoming the first major sporting event to offer equal prize money for female and male players.
It was a campaign that began in 1970 when King first called for equal pay after winning Italy’s Foro Italico tournament. After pocketing $600 compared to the $3500 awarded to the men’s champion, King said: “Everyone thinks women should be thrilled when we get crumbs. And I want women to have the cake, the icing, and the cherry on top too.”
After two years of public advocacy, King won the 1972 US Open and vowed she would boycott the next year’s tournament if it didn’t pay men and women equally. In the face of a potential dispute with their most talented player, the USTA relented and instituted an equal pay policy for 1973.
As if to show the universe how equal pay should have been the case from day one, King trounced Riggs in the famous “Battle of the Sexes” later that year.
“I was totally thrilled because it’s not just about the money, it’s about the message. Every generation does have to fight for equality and freedom,” King said in a video made for the anniversary. “We need to dream and build. We can’t just dream and not build. We’ve got to do both.”
As the USWNT can testify from first-hand experience, equal pay is a fight that still continues today. The fact that King was able to make it happen five decades ago is further testament to her status as one of the most justifiably revered icons in sports history.
Her struggle is something to remember every time you see the amazing art for the 2023 Open.