Susan Ware: A Plaque for Billie Jean

Another U.S. Open is upon us! What sets this tennis tournament apart from the other majors is its nightlife factor.  Held at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, it is known for showcasing its major headlining matches under the spotlights of the massive Arthur Ashe Stadium under the New York night sky.  The players love the chance to entertain and engage the sport’s rowdiest spectators in the fun, arena-like atmosphere, sometimes well into the night (and well past my bedtime!).   Susan Ware, author of Game, Set, Match: Billie Jean King and the Revolution in Women’s Sports, illustrates why the USTA has graced this important national facility with Billie Jean King’s trailblazing name. -Alex

Every time a news story about the U.S. Open makes reference to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, it’s a reminder of her towering influence on the sport. Certainly the tennis-savvy crowds flocking to Flushing Meadows don’t need to be reminded who she is, although I’m sure that somewhere on the grounds the United States Tennis Association has erected a plaque that summarizes her stellar tennis career, including her thirty-nine Grand Slam titles and her role as the founder of the Women’s Tennis Association and World Team Tennis.

But Billie Jean King has always been about much more than just tennis. In fact, her life and activism are very much part of the story of 20th century women’s history. Here is the plaque that I would have written in her honor:

Billie Jean King, feminist sports celebrity extraordinaire and tireless advocate for gender equity, symbolizes the revolution in women’s sports that has reshaped American society since the 1970s. Seizing the opportunities created by Title IX and the explosion of women’s sports, she shows what women are capable of when given a sporting chance. A trailblazer on both the personal and professional fronts, she personifies the powerful ideas of modern feminism and embraces her role as one of the first openly gay sports figures in America. Billie Jean King represents women’s liberation in action.

How about it, USTA?

Susan Ware is an independent scholar who specializes in twentieth-century U.S. history, women’s history, and biography.

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