At just 19, Coco Gauff became one of the youngest women to win the U.S. Open, and she made a point to thank the women who came before her. As she accepted her $3 million prize, Gauff turned to tennis icon Billie Jean King and said “Thank you Billie. For fighting for this.”
Throughout her lengthy tennis career, Billie Jean King won 39 Grand Slam titles and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. In addition to her unmatched tennis skills, she has also been an outspoken advocate for gender equality, famously beating Bobby Riggs in the 1973 “Battle of the Sexes.” Riggs was retired from the sport at this time, but still claimed that he could beat any of the top female players, since women’s tennis was “inferior.” King presented him with a pig at the start of the match to call out his chauvinism and then proceeded to beat him in straight sets.
This win solidified King as a feminist icon, and she remained committed to the campaign for equal pay for women in tennis. She used her leverage and titles to push the U.S. Open to become the first major tournament to offer equal prize money for men and women by threatening not to play. Coco Gauff recognized the significance of King’s fight.
Of course, the fight for equal pay is ongoing in the United States, as women are still on average paid 77 cents for every dollar. The wage gap is even more prominent for women of color. The National Partnership for Women and Families reported that American women lose nearly $1.6 trillion each year because of this disparity. Providing paid family and medical leave and the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act are essential to addressing the persistent wage gap in our country.