US Open Celebrates 50 Years Of Equal Prize Money With Congressional Gold Medal Bid For BJK

If you are fighting for equal pay for women in sports, it’s likely you’re working with Billie Jean King. From U.S Women’s Soccer team to the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, King is a sought voice in pay equity in the United States.

That is why this year, the 50 year anniversary of equal prize money at the US Open, the U.S Tennis Association is opening a bid to grant Bille Jean King the Congressional Gold Medal.

In the past, women such as Aung San Suu Kyi, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson, and most recently Mamie Till-Mobley have won the highest civilian honor bestowed by Congress. Eleven athletes including Arnold Palmer, Larry Doby, and Willie O’Ree have also been recognized. However, no individual woman athlete has been chosen to receive the Congressional Gold Medal. King received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.

The USTA hopes to change that.

“Billie has rightfully received numerous honors and accolades in her life,” said Stacey Allaster, Chief Executive, Professional Tennis, USTA and US Open Tournament Director. “But, the time has come for our nation to recognize her achievements with the Congressional Gold Medal for the wide-ranging positive impact these achievements have had on generations of women, men, girls, and boys of all backgrounds, making our country a better place.”

MORE FROM FORBESNew 24/7 Streaming Network Places Women’s Sports First

After winning the women’s singles title at the 1972 US Open, King learned she received $15,000 less than the men’s winner in the same year. King demanded equal pay for women and even went as far as contacting sponsors herself.

“I knew I had to not just complain, but to come up with solutions, so I talked to different sponsors and asked them if they’d make up the difference in total prize money,” King told USA Today. “I was a business woman and this was a business decision, so I knew if I got some sponsors to pay more money, I was hoping that would make the difference, and it did.”

The overall theme for the 2023 US Open theme celebrate King and the 50th Anniversary of Equal Prize Money. Brazilian artist Camila Pinheiro created the theme art that will be featured across all promotions and activations, including broadcasts and merchandise.

The USTA has also prepared “a multi-dimensional history of equal prize money, and the impact that equal prize money has had on sports will be launched,” for digital storytelling across social media. on-line with additional promotion across our social media channels. A series entitled “What Equality Means to Me” including essays penned by notable women from all disciplines of life, will be shared from April through August. The first essay will be written by King.

MORE FROM FORBESWomen Still Make 82 Cents On The Dollar Compared To Men, Study Finds

“The USTA is incredibly proud to celebrate the 50th anniversary of awarding equal prize money at this year’s US Open, and to honor Billie Jean King’s efforts to make this a reality,” said Brian Hainline, USTA Chairman of the Board and President. “No individual has done more to secure equality for female athletes than Billie Jean King. Her impact goes far beyond the tennis court, and there is no better time to celebrate her legacy than on the anniversary of this historic milestone.”

The USTA and many others regarding King as a beacon for women in the workplace, especially in sports. Honoring her during the 2023 U.S. Open and petitioning for Congress to recognize her seems appropriate, given how she has used her platform over the years.

And she’s not done yet.

Last year, King noted Title IX has fallen short of protecting or advancing access to sports to all girls and women. White, able-bodied girl and women have benefited most.

“In the next 50 years, we really have to concentrate on getting more and more girls of color. We’ve got to make sure we take care of girls with disabilities. I know a lot of schools are not in compliance. The Office of Civil Rights is supposed to enforce everything. It’s very small, not enough people to be a proper police force,” King told The Associated Press last year.

MORE FROM FORBESA New Human Rights Campaign Collaboration Dedicated To Advocacy For All Women

She added, “We have to help the LGBT community and especially trans athletes. I’m very big on inclusion, so I want everyone to have a chance to play, but I also want it to be fair.”

Like many movements, the equal pay fight has lacked intersectionality. Today marks Equal Pay Day, or the date symbolizing how far into the year the average woman must work in order to have earned what the average man had earned the entire previous year. However, according to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), Equal Pay Day for LGBTQ+ workers is three months away. Equal Pay Day for Black Women is July 27 and Native Women reach equal pay on November 30.

And so the work continues. King is deserving of the celebration and being honored with the Congressional Gold Medal places equal pay front and center.

“It’s not just about the money, it’s about the message,” King said in today’s press release, referring to her fight 50 years ago. “Every generation does have to fight for equality and freedom.”

Women athletes such as Venus Williams, Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams, and players in the WNBA are just a handful of athletes prime to carry King’s legacy to the next level for all girls and women, regardless of race or gender identity.