For the first time in history, a major global team sporting event will bear the name of a woman.
The International Tennis Federation announced on Thursday via the New York Times that the Fed Cup, the yearly women’s team tennis competition, is being named after trailblazer and activist Billie Jean King. It will now be known as the Billie Jean King Cup, honoring not just one of the most important figures in tennis history, but sports history.
Discarding the ‘lame name’
The Federation Cup, as it was originally called, was established in 1963 and was meant to be the women’s equivalent to the Davis Cup. But the name never really fit the event. Tennis commentator Bud Collins once called it “a splendid idea with a lame name,” even after it was shortened to the Fed Cup in 1995.
King played in the first Fed Cup when she was just 19, winning as part of the U.S. team and contributing an important and decisive doubles win in the finals against the Australian team. She would go on to win another six times, both as a player, player-coach and coach.
“I was and am still in shock,” King told the New York Times about having a global team tournament named after her.
“I understand this is such a privilege, but I really want to make a difference, too,” King said. “And of course, now I’m racking my brain. How can we move this forward on our goals and our ambitions?”
King still fighting to change the world
King has dedicated her career and her life to achieving equality for women, not just in sports but everywhere. At 76 years old, she’s still doing it, still trying to change people’s perceptions of women as athletes and leaders in all aspects of life.
“When a woman does something, people always think we do it for women,” King told the New York Times. “When a guy does something, they never say they did it for the guys. And so one of the changes I hope I can talk about more and more is that I would like people to think when you see a woman’s name, you don’t think they just did it for women or they’re only representing women. We are representing people, just like you would with the guys. You don’t go up to John McEnroe and say, ‘Thanks for what you did for men’s tennis.’ You say, ‘Thanks for what you did for tennis.’”
She continued: “I want this Billie Jean King Cup to represent everyone, not just women. It really bothers me, and until we change that, you’re never going to have a woman president of the United States. It’s the way we think about women. We’ve got to stop it. Women are leaders for everyone. Men are leaders for everyone.”
She’s also supportive of players like Naomi Osaka using their platform as elite, world-famous athletes to support social justice causes that are important to them. At the U.S. Open, champion Osaka wore seven masks, each bearing one name of a Black victim of police violence. To King, this is exactly what she’s been fighting for since she first boycotted a tennis event due to unequal prize money for men and women.
“I think it’s fantastic,” King said. “The difference is today you don’t lose your sponsors, in fact you probably get more sometimes, because the sponsors get behind you, which I love. And they love the fact the player stands for something more than just, ‘Oh, I hit great backhands and forehands.’ But the biggest difference from the old days is technology, the phone, how you can communicate quickly, how you can mobilize quickly. We did not have that luxury. You truly can be much more your authentic self than the old days. They don’t have to be so careful. You know how thrilling that is for us? They are living our dream.”
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