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Former First Lady Michelle Obama Honors Billie Jean King At 2023 US Open

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On Opening Night in Arthur Ashe Stadium, the US Open had both a historic milestone and a historic event. On Monday at America’s Grand Slam, Michelle Obama, a former first lady of the United States, collaborated with the competition to recognize Billie Jean King and the 50th anniversary of equal prize money for men and women.

Obama called it a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to recognize the legendary champion whom she named both a friend and a visionary. She joined King and Grammy Award-winning singer Sara Bareilles in a unique on-court ceremony on the Open’s biggest stage.

“Billie Jean once said that one of the things that she loves about this sport is the moment just before you strike the ball—that “split-second pause where everything hangs in the balance—because in those moments, anything can happen,” Obama said. 

“Fifty years ago, everything was hanging in the balance. Billie Jean had a choice. She could put her head down, keep winning tournament after tournament, and just accept whatever check she was given. Or she could dig deep and break serve. She could make a stand.

“If you know Billie Jean, you know what she chose … and thankfully, the US Open had the guts to listen.”

When King won the women’s singles title at the US Open in 1972, she received $10,000, compared to victor Ille Nastase’s $25,000 prize.

“Let us remember that all of this is far bigger than a champion’s paycheck,” Obama said. “This is about how women are seen and valued In this world. Sadly, we have seen how quickly progress like this can be taken away if we are not mindful and vigilant, if we do not keep remembering, advocating, organizing, speaking out, and, yes, voting!

“Billie Jean teaches us that when our rights hang in the balance, we all have a choice to make. We can wait around and accept what we’re given. We can sit by silently and hope that someone else will fight our battles. Or, we can make our own stand. We can use whatever platforms we have to speak out and fight to protect the progress we’ve made and level the playing field for our daughters and their daughters.

“This is what I hope we take away from tonight. Let us all summon a fraction of the courage and tenacity of women like Billie Jean King and continue to fight for a better, more just more equitable future for all of our children. I want to congratulate the men and women of the US Open for raising the bar, not just for tennis, but for the entire world.

“Thank you Billie Jean for always fighting for women’s equality,” Gauff said. “I appreciate you … so that I can live the life that I live today, in women’s tennis and the world in general.”

King responded by speaking up and clearly and informing the organizers that she and the other women’s pros wouldn’t be returning the next year if they weren’t paid equally. The 1973 male and female champions each received $25,000 thanks to her diligent efforts to find a sponsor who covered the shortfall and Billy Talbert, the then-director of the US Open tournament.

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