Tennis players like Coco Gauff are a reminder of why Billie Jean King and others fought for equal pay 50 years ago.
On the 50th anniversary of equal pay at the US Open, King told People that Gauff winning the tournament is “the reason” why she and other female athletes fought for equal pay in 1973. Wednesday is also the 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Sexes, a tennis match that King won against Bobby Riggs.
“With women’s sports particularly, they paid a lot of attention to that match because there was a guy involved,” she told People. “If you got a guy involved, you got a lot more attention. I still think that holds true today to a certain degree, but not to the extent it was back then.”
King won equal pay for the 1973 US Open by bringing a sponsorship company on board. In the years that followed, the other three major tournaments joined in committing to equal pay. It’s been that way ever since, and Gauff’s win at this year’s US Open was a highlight.
“Coco winning was just fantastic,” King told People. “When I see her, she’s the reason we fought so hard 50 years ago.”
She also called the 19-year-old someone who is “going to be really fantastic for our sport. While Gauff has proven herself on the court, she’s also become an advocate for social justice.
“I think she’s such a force,” King said, adding that her “background and care for social justice” make her a great role model before adding that part of it comes from her grandmother. Gauff’s grandmother, Yvonne Lee Odom, was the first Black child to integrate to an all-white school in Delray back in 1961.
“To hear her story, if you’re a granddaughter and you’re hearing your grandmother talk about going to a white school, being the only Black child, I think she’s such a force,” King said. “But I want her to be happy, number one. She’s really exciting to watch and a great athlete.”