Fifty Years Later, Women Athletes Have It Somewhat Better

Change was very slow to come and still is slow.

International Women’s Month is closing and to quote the Virginia Slims cigarette commercial jingle of 1969, in women’s sports, you’ve come a long way baby to get to where you are today.” In 1970, women were not allowed to play in international soccer or football matches. Billie Jean King and eight other women risked being blackballed from their profession, tennis, because the nine women decided to start their own women’s tour. On December 5th, 1921, the Football Association, which was the governing body of football or soccer, had enough of women playing the game. The FA told women to play soccer on a recreational level. The FA would not supply referees to officiate women’s matches. But the FA also concluded that women should not being playing football or soccer because it was “quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged” The FA found doctors who said that soccer posed a serious physical risk to women. The men running the FA barred women from playing at a highest level and that would remain the policy for about five decades. In 1969, as women’s liberation and protests accelerated globally, the Women’s Football Association was formed. The FA bowed to pressure and ended restrictions on women playing at its stadiums in 1971. 

Billie Jean King and eight other women tennis players became known as the Original 9 in 1970. There were nine women who decided to buck the establishment and play in the Virginia Slims Invitational in Houston in 1970. That would change women’s tennis. The nine were threatened by the tennis bosses from playing in Grand Slam events. In 1971, the parent company of the Virginia Slims cigarette brand, Phillip Morris, sponsored a series of tournaments. In 1973, the US Open in tennis paid the men’s and women’s champions equally. The sports world changed.

Evan Weiner’s books are available at iTunes –