Billie Jean King Thanks Coco Gauff for Historic Cultural Shift Only Months After Praising Lewis Hamilton for Identical Issue

Published 09/21/2023, 10:00 AM EDT

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50 years ago. 20th September 1973. It was a monumental day for women in sport. Tennis legend Billie Jean King went up against Bobby Riggs in the ‘Battle of the Sexes.’ With 90 million people holding their breaths, King fought for every woman to pick up a tennis racket that day. She fought for every woman to play a sport that day. She fought for equality. Overcoming Riggs in straight sets—6-4 6-3 6-3—she made a statement. She knew she had to win, and she did it. The result? Equal pay for women in the US Open.

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Billie Jean started a movement 50 years ago. What she’s been doing for tennis since then, Lewis Hamilton has been doing for motorsport. More specifically, Formula 1. They’re both working toward changing their sport for the better. After Hamilton’s efforts caught King’s eye a few months ago, it’s now Coco Gauff who’s the subject of her praise.

Billie Jean King is grateful to Lewis Hamilton and Coco Gauff

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The Association of Tennis Professionals—it’s the men’s tennis circuit. It’s female counterpart? The Women’s Tennis Association. Formula 1 is a little different, though. Unlike in tennis, where men and women don’t compete against each other (unless it’s mixed doubles), men and women can compete against each other in F1. It’s just that there have been no full-time female F1 drivers since its inception. This is what Hamilton has been fighting for—diversity and inclusivity. Until last season, F1 had a parallel W Series (women’s single-seater championship). However, due to inadequate funding, it was called off mid-season.

In an interview, the seven-time champion was asked if F1 should support feeder series like these. He said, “100% I do. Particularly the W Series. There has not been enough focus on women in the whole of F1’s life. There is not enough [female] representation across the board within the industry.” Sharing this, Billie Jean wrote, “The #F1 W Series ended prematurely due to financial problems. Thank you, @LewisHamilton, for using your platform to advocate for more inclusivity and representation for the women of racing to grow the sport. 

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‘Used His Platform To Advocate’: Billie Jean King, Emma Raducanu and Others Thrilled With Lewis Hamilton Receiving the Knighthood

19-year-old Coco Gauff won the US Open two weeks ago. As Lewis Hamilton cheered her on, Billie Jean showered high praise on the young American. In an interview with PEOPLE, King said, “Coco winning was just fantastic. When I see her, she’s the reason we fought so hard 50 years ago.  I think she’s such a force because of her background and care for social justice.” Just because Novak Djokovic played a best-of-five set match to win the US Open and Gauff played only a best-of-three setter doesn’t mean she put in any less effort. That’s what King fought for 50 years ago, and that’s the legacy Gauff is continuing. To honor Billie Jean, the icon, the US Open released a video to celebrate equality.

The 2023 US Open celebrated 50 years of equality

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The Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA) was founded in 2019 by Vasek Pospisil and Novak Djokovic. Since its founding, it has been committed to equal pay for men and women at the Grand Slam level. To think men and women aren’t paid equally for playing the same sport might seem absurd, but that’s how it’s been. But because of the efforts of Billie Jean and many other women in sports, 83% of sports now reward men and women the same prize money. At the 2023 US Open, the tennis community celebrated 50 years of equal pay.

To pay tribute to all that King has done for tennis, the US Open released a video narrated by Venus Williams to thank the icon. This is what it said: “Equality begins with one woman. Equality is 50 years in the making. Equality is being ahead of your time, listening with your heart, and putting your money where your mouth is. Equality is contagious. Equality is including others in the fight. Equality is hitting, screaming, and winning like a boss. Equality is when your seat at the table is a throne, feeling comfortable in your own skin, a force of nature. Equality is knowing 50 years is only the beginning. Thank you, Billie Jean, for 50 years of progress and paving the way for 50 more.”

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Watch This Story: Roger Federer Stands Strongly Behind Struggling Lewis Hamilton in Dire Times of Max Verstappen’s Dominance

What’s your take on equal pay and women’s representation in sports?

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Written by:

Aditi Krishnan

757Articles

One take at a time

Aditi is an F1 writer at EssentiallySports and is essentially a sportsperson. She fell in love with F1 in 2020. It happened when her brother tuned into that first race weekend in Austria, and she knew right then and there that she had to learn everything she could about the sport.
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Edited by:

Akash Pandhare

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