Billie Jean King Influenced The Way Barack Obama Raised Sasha And Malia

When tennis star and women's rights activist Billie Jean King dominated self-described "male chauvinist pig" Bobby Griggs in their iconic 1973 Battle of the Sexes exhibition match, she changed sport and feminist history forever, inspiring millions of people all over the world in the process. And, as it turns out, one such inspired onlooker was a young Barack Obama, then living in Hawaii. 

The former president awarded King with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, and he shared the significant impact King had on him while he was presenting her award. "You don't realize this, but I saw that match when I was 12," King recalled the president saying, in her autobiography "All In." He continued, "It changed how I raised my daughters," (via the New York Post)

Indeed, King's monumental triumph over Griggs, who claimed he would beat her simply because "she's a woman and they don't have the emotional stability," marked a major turning point in the ongoing fight for gender equality. In fact, it's this perseverance, excellence, and self-confidence that both Barack and Michelle Obama endeavored to instill in their two daughters.

He praised King for her accomplishments on and off the court

Although Billie Jean King has received countless awards for being the tennis legend that she is, Barack Obama took the time to celebrate her accomplishments outside of the sport while awarding her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. "We honor what she calls 'all the off-the-court stuff,'" Obama said during his presentation. 

The former president added, "What she did to broaden the reach of the game, to change how women athletes and women everywhere view themselves, and to give everyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation — including my two daughters — a chance to compete both on the court and in life," per CBS News. 

King made history in the highly anticipated Battle of the Sexes by beating Griggs, whose misogynistic rhetoric actively sought to demean and belittle female athletes, but she didn't stop there. The tennis star continued to fight for equal prize money for female competitors, resisted gendered dress codes, and pushed for more inclusive leadership in the workforce (via her website). 

The Obamas honored King again at the 2023 US Open

Malia and Sasha Obama's mother, former First Lady Michelle Obama, has also been vocal about how Billie Jean King influenced how she and Former President Barack Obama raised their two children. The bestselling author honored King at the 2023 US Open in New York City, praising the tennis star for her historical contributions to gender equality. 

"Billie Jean teaches us that when things lie in the balance, we all have a choice to make," Michelle stated. "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. 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 all of our daughters and their daughters," (via YouTube).

While you might assume that presidential kids like Sasha and Malia enjoyed a lavish lifestyle, their mother ensured the sisters got consistent reality checks while growing up in the White House, including assigning them chores and keeping home life as informal as possible. The Obamas also made sure to remind their daughters just how far society had come to get them where they were — thanks in no small part to trailblazers like King.