Billie Jean King could be awarded Congressional Gold Medal

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Billie Jean King at a presser Credit: Alamy
Billie Jean King at a presser Credit: Alamy

Trailblazing tennis icon Billie Jean King could become the first woman athlete to receive the Congressional Gold Medal.

Under a piece of legislation introduced by US lawmakers this week, King would receive the honour, according to the US Tennis Association (USTA) which commented on the move on Wednesday.

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The bipartisan bill, sponsored by Pennsylvania Republican Brian Fitzpatrick and New Jersey Democrat Mikie Sherrill, would honour King as “an American icon, in recognition of a remarkable life devoted to championing equal rights for all, in sports and in society.”

Eleven male athletes and the entirety of the 1980 US Olympic team, which did not compete in that year’s Moscow Summer Games, have received the award, which is one of the highest civilian honours that can be bestowed upon an American.

“I am honored to be considered for the Congressional Gold Medal,” King said after learning of the move.

The bill’s presentation comes against the backdrop of tennis celebrating the 50th anniversary of equal prize money for men and women at the US Open.

“Billie Jean King is an incredible athlete and unmatched trailblazer for women and girls in sports,” said Fitzpatrick.

“This is a woman who has truly impacted the lives of so many,” said Sherrill.

“We’re still not where we need to be, or want to be, but we would not be anywhere near where we are today without Billie Jean King.”

USTA president Brian Hainline also hailed King’s fight for women’s equality in payouts half a century ago after she claimed the 1972 US Open crown.

The US Open began paying equal money in 1973 after King’s efforts to push for parity.

Later on in 1973, King would beat Bobby Riggs in the historic “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match.

“Perhaps most impressive about her legacy is that her greatness on and off the court has not only inspired countless girls and women to also aim for their own greatness, but has pushed for them to be properly compensated for these efforts,” Hainline said.

“The time is perfect for Billie Jean King to become the first female athlete to be given the Congressional Gold Medal.”

The former world No 1 won 39 Grand Slam titles: 12 in singles, 16 in women’s doubles, and 11 in mixed doubles.

She was also the founder of the Women’s Tennis Association, along with the other members of the so-called original nine, and the Women’s Sports Foundation.

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