It was 1973 and Billy Jean King fought for the rights of women to get the same pay as the men at the U.S.Open and she won them over. Talking with ESPN tennis analyst and Florida’s own, Chris Evert, there are a great many women players that needs to be thankful to King for her efforts.
Q. Chris, as you’re aware, the US Open is celebrating and honoring the 40th anniversary of equal prize money. You played in the ’73 Open. Did you appreciate back then what an achievement equal prize money was?
CHRIS EVERT: ’73. Gosh, I have to think back. I was 18.
You know, I had to admit, when I was a teenager, I don’t think I fully understood the whole scene of women’s liberation, equality, what impact that really would have on women and on the future of women’s tennis. At 18, I was a little too wrapped up in maybe what makeup I’m going to wear on the court and how my two-handed backhand was going to work that day. As an 18-year-old, I wasn’t conscious of the enormity of it.
Later on, absolutely. But I was pretty much a protected teenager from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Until I went out into the world for a few years, I probably didn’t understand what was happening in the world, culture and society.
Had the blinders on a little bit at that point.
Q. Was there a point where you could appreciate what Billie Jean had been doing?
CHRIS EVERT: Well, I was president of the WTA for nine years. I think that speaks for itself. Billie Jean took me under her wing, said, I’m retiring, we need a leader for the game. Educated Martina and myself, cajoled and threatened us, too.
In my early 20s I had a better comprehension, understanding of women in society, also women in sports, equality. She really spent a lot of time with me explaining everything. In my early 20s, yes, I did appreciate. Again, I was like 18 even during the Bobby Riggs match. I just thought it was a woman playing a man. I didn’t understand the implications of what it really was. That was the beauty of Billie Jean. She had a vision. She could see 10 years down the road. At 18, I didn’t.
Even now when I look at the players, I think Serena passed the $50 million mark in prize money. Are you kidding me? I think I made $9 million in my 18-year career. Thank God for Billie Jean and that she was in our sport, not another sport, because it might have taken longer.