Billie Jean King
reflects on Original 9
Liz Kobak | March 21, 2016
One dollar – that’s all it took. A green piece of paper bearing George Washington’s face symbolized the start of a tennis movement that would change the course of women’s sports forever.
Women’s History Month may be ending soon, but there’s a lot to celebrate. Flashback to 1970, when nine of the nation’s top female tennis players banded together and wondered why their male counterparts could compete on their own professional tour, receive tournament compensation and sponsorship deals, but they couldn’t.
Their solution was to become their own agents and create a new professional tour. And by holding up one dollar high above their heads as though it were a trophy, “The Original 9” charged the net in saying women, too, should have the right to pursue tennis professionally.
At this year’s Miami Open, some of the Original 9 members and legendary female competitors – including 39-time Grand Slam Champion Billie Jean King and 18-time Grand Slam singles champion Chrissie Evert – acknowledged the progress made in equality issues (prize money, for example) since the WTA tour’s inception while also noting that there is still progress to be made. ADVERTISEMENT
During a press conference held on Wednesday, King described the typical presser atmosphere she experienced as a player during the 1970s. A byline like this one would not have existed, since every sportswriter in attendance was a man, each of whom had varying views on what feminism means.
“You cannot believe the differences. It was hilarious,” said King, reflecting on some of the remarks these writers made when attempting to define feminism on the money. “Nobody was really sure what they thought. So I just said, ‘equal rights and opportunities for boys and girls.’”
The Original 9 members – most of whom are now in their 60s – reunited this past summer at the US Open, the Slam calendar’s last event held annually at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, named after the king of women's tennis. The USTA’s first African-American President Katrina Adams hosted, as she came up with the idea of bringing all nine ladies together for this momentous occasion.
During their 45-year reunion at the first Grand Slam event to offer equal prize money for both men and women, the living legends reflected on how far WTA tennis has come since their playing days. It is remarkable, indeed, how one dollar turned into a whopping $3.3 million in prize money awarded to the 2015 men’s and women’s singles winners.
This is why Women’s History month exists – to congratulate women who exhibit fearlessness when tackling issues of equality, regardless of the implications that might come as a result, and to remember those who exemplified that behavior.
Although it has roots in the 1900s, Women’s History Month only became official in 1986. Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, Billie Jean King – these are all women who defended not just their own viewpoints, but those of other women who may have felt similarly but lacked the platform to stand up for themselves properly. The Original 9 women paved the way of success and equality for today’s players to make their marks on the professional circuit.
“To have equal prize money in the majors sends a message. It’s not about the money,” said King. “It’s about the message.”