King would be the first individual woman athlete to receive the honor
Today, U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) introduced bipartisan legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to tennis legend and American icon Billie Jean King. The medal will be awarded in recognition of Billie Jean King’s groundbreaking leadership, throughout her life and career, in advancing equal rights for women in athletics, education and society at large. King was instrumental in securing equal prize money in men’s and women’s tennis at the U.S. Open, spearheaded the formation of the Women’s Tennis Association and brought worldwide attention to pay equality throughout her career and in her “Battle of the Sexes” match against Bobby Riggs. Today is the 50th anniversary of the match.
The House companion bill is led by Representatives Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) and currently has more than 80 cosponsors.
“Billie Jean King is a tennis legend, a trailblazing American icon and a pioneer for gender equality,” said Senator Gillibrand. “From her leadership on equal rights and Title IX to her advocacy on behalf of the LGBTQ community, Billie Jean’s life and career is an example of using one’s platform and talents for positive, lasting change. No female athlete has ever been awarded the Congressional Gold Medal and no one could be more fitting to break this barrier than Billie Jean King.”
“Billie Jean King has been an inspiration for female athletes around the world— not only for her incredible talent on the tennis court but also for her determination in fighting for women to receive equal pay. I can think of no other female athlete that has done more to advance women and girls in sports than Billie Jean King, and I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing legislation to award her the Congressional Gold Medal for her efforts,” Senator Capito said.
“Billie Jean King is an incredible athlete and unmatched trailblazer for women and girls in sports,” said Congressman Fitzpatrick. “I was honored to introduce this legislation in the House, honoring her important accomplishments. And I look forward to working with my colleagues in recognizing Billie Jean’s tireless advocacy for female athletes.”
“Women’s sports simply wouldn’t be what they are today without the trailblazing leadership of Billie Jean King,” said Representative Sherrill. “From her 39 Grand Slam titles and her advocacy before Congress for the passage of Title IX, to her iconic victory in the Battle of the Sexes and establishing the Women’s Sports Foundation, she won greater respect and visibility for women’s sports as she fought for equality – both on and off the court. Billie Jean King is a true American icon, one of the greatest examples our country has to offer, and there’s no doubt she should be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.”
“I am incredibly excited that after just finishing the 2023 US Open – where we celebrated the event’s 50th anniversary of awarding equal prize money to men and women champions – and in a year where a new American woman champion was crowned in the amazing Coco Gauff, that Senators Gillibrand, Capito, and Sinema have introduced legislation in the Senate to recognize Billie Jean King with the Congressional Gold Medal,” said USTA Chairman of the Board and President Brian Hainline. “Billie Jean has utilized her status as both a champion of tennis and as an American icon to fight for equality in all aspects of life. Her legacy and impact are embodied by these three women who have introduced this legislation, and in the Coco’s phenomenal lift of the US Open trophy. It is only fitting that today, on the 50th anniversary of Billie Jean King defeating Bobby Riggs in the ‘Battle of the Sexes,’ that this legislation is being put forth in the Senate.”
Since the American Revolution, Congress has commissioned gold medals as its highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions to society. To date, an individual woman athlete has never received the Congressional Gold Medal. Previous athletes who have received the Congressional Gold Medal include Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens, Roberto Clemente, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Byron Nelson, Willie O’Ree, Greg LeMond, Larry Doby, Joe Louis and the 1980 Summer Olympic team.
The legislation is endorsed by the United States Tennis Association.