Michelle Obama thanks Billie Jean King for fighting for equality during US Open speech

Michelle Obama called on supporters to use their platforms "to protect the progress we've made and level the playing field for all of our daughters and their daughters."

Tennis legend Billie Jean King was the focus of Michelle Obama’s speech at the US Open on Monday night, which she attended with former President Barack Obama, People reports.

In honor of the 50th anniversary of equal prize money at the US Open, the former first lady celebrated King for her historical work in fighting for equal pay for women in tennis.

2023 US Open - Day 1
(L to R) Chairman of the Board and President of the United States Tennis Association Brian Hainline, 15-year old Gabi Bell of Brooklyn, New York, American former world No. 1 tennis player Billie Jean King, former first lady of the United States Michelle Obama, and American singer, songwriter, and pianist Sara Bareilles pose following a ceremony honoring 50 years of equal pay at the U.S Open during the Women/Men’s Singles First Round matches on Day One of the 2023 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 28, 2023 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

“Billie Jean teaches us that when things lie in the balance, we all have a choice to make,” the New York Times best-seller book author said, Sky Sports reports. 

“We can either wait around and accept what we’re given. We can sit silently and hope someone else fights our battles. Or we can make our own stand,” Obama continued. 

In 1972, after winning the US Open, King famously threatened not to play again after receiving $10,000 to $15,000 less than if a man had won, People reports. The following year, the US Open became the first sporting event to pay women the same as men in tournaments because King rallied women players to fight for equal pay.  

When King won the 1973 Battle of the Sexes match against Bobby Riggs, she received $25,000 — the same amount paid to a man winning the title for the first time.

All Grand Slam events now pay men and women equally. However, Obama noted that there are still “far too many tournaments out there that still need to give equal pay to women,” she said in her speech at Arthur Ashe Stadium arena, People reports.

She called on supporters to use their platforms “to protect the progress we’ve made and level the playing field for all of our daughters and their daughters.”

Following Obama’s tribute, King told the crowd that “our work is far from done” and quoted Coretta Scott King: “‘Struggle is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won. You earn it, and you win it in every generation,'” the sports legend said, per ABC News.

According to People, US Open winners will receive $3 million this year.

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