The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Author Johnette Howard goes “All In” on Billie Jean King’s lifelong activism

3 min read
A woman speaking in the stadium with a blue curtain behind her.

Howard spoke on King’s tennis career and its impact on women’s sports at Dodd Auditorium | Abbey Magnet, The Weekly Ringer


Staff Writer

On Thursday, March 14 in Dodd Auditorium, the Great Lives Lecture Series welcomed journalist and author Johnette Howard, the bestselling author of “All In,” a biography about Billie Jean King. Throughout the lecture, Howard not only talked about King’s tennis career but also how she used her platform in sports to make her mark on the world.

During the lecture, Howard recalled a time when she met with King to discuss the autobiography and she made a joke about her successes. King asked, “Did you know I’m the OG?” 

According to Howard, King did not just want to be a known tennis player, she wanted to make a difference. King noticed the stigmas and barriers women faced during the 1950s and 1960s and told her mom that her calling was tennis and she would use her role as a player to create a platform for her advocacy. King realized her generation had to inspire women and young girls, which she did in light of the significant influence of the civil rights movement.

Although King was a successful tennis player, she also had to persist to prove herself. 

When the Civil Rights Act passed, Title IX had a prominent impact on women, as it made discriminating against someone’s race or gender illegal. Since the Act passed, King has inspired girls around the world by believing they can do anything they put their minds to.

Hana Kimmey, a senior majoring in biomedical science on the UMW’s Women’s Tennis team, wants to keep learning from King so she can inspire the next generation of tennis athletes. 

“She has such a strong presence, even at her age today—showing up to camps and events and continuing to inspire the next generation,” she said. “So I hope we can carry on her legacy and continue to improve how sports is viewed for girls.” 

King accomplished tremendous feats following her entrance into professional tennis in 1968. 

During the Battle of the Sexes tournament in 1973, King played against Bobby Riggs, a successful male tennis player. According to Howard, during the match, King said, “If I beat him that would be so embarrassing for him.”

In fact, she beat him, and once she did, she changed the world of tennis; she showed young women that they could play sports and compete against men. 

In 1974, King founded “womenSports,” the first magazine dedicated to women in sports, and in 2006, the U.S. Open dedicated its tournaments to King and renamed a stadium in Queens, NY—one of the world’s largest public tennis facilities—to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis CenterKing was not just an inspiration, but she was also an activist. King created the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative, the Women’s Tennis Association and the Women’s Sports Foundation to end discrimination and focus on gender and LGBTQ issues. In 2018, she married Ilana Kloss.

Katherine Armstrong, a sophomore business administration major highlighted how King has always been a voice and role model for younger generations and encourages her to follow suit.

“[King] is an inspiration when it comes to women’s sports,” she said. “She really bridged the gap in gender equality and has inspired me to be a voice for others.” 

After King retired in 1983 from the sport, she stayed an activist. 

Howard said, “When Billie fights for equality she fights for everyone. When she sees protesters, she does not just see protestors, she sees voters too.”

Catherine Nguyen, a senior mathematics and chemistry double major, found the lecture more enthralling than expected. During Howard’s lecture, she was encouraged to do more activism based on King’s life story, especially as she anticipates entering the professorial world come May.

“Billie Jean’s life was a lot more interesting than I thought it would be,” she said. “To see where she came from and how far she has come since then—through education and through sports—I thought it was interesting and inspiring.” 

Nguyen said, “I shouldn’t be afraid of trying new things and new opportunities, especially now since I’m going to be graduating.”