Margaret Court vs Billie Jean King (The Arena Battle)

A political row has gone from simmer to boiling this year at the Australian Open. Margaret Court Arena, named after the great female tennis player, has repeatedly been called for renaming.

It began last season when Martina Navratilova wrote a letter to The Sydney Morning Herald. Navratilova, a lesbian, was calling out Margaret Court’s views on homosexuality. Court is a vocal advocate for traditional marriage and regularly appears on Christian television at odds with the LGBT agenda.

Navratilova wrote, “Sporting venues named for athletes, or any place, really, named for whoever, are so named for one reason. That reason is their whole body of work. In other words, it is not just for what this person did on the field, on the court, in politics, arts or sciences, for instance, but also for who they are as human beings.”

These are noble words and ideals Navratilova expresses that I do not think anyone would disagree with. This Australian Open, again the issue was reignited when Billie Jean King, a great former American tennis player, stated, “I personally don’t think she should have her name (on the arena) anymore.” King continued to say that if she was currently playing she would refuse to play on Margaret Court Arena, the second most prestigious court at Melbourne Park. King, like Navratilova, is a lesbian who finds Courts views at odd with her own.

Billie Jean King as an American, has the second most prestigious court at her home Open named after her. Let us use Navratilova’s criteria and look at the naming of these two arena’s after two very different women.

Billie Jean King and Margaret Court were contemporaries of each other. Margaret Court was clearly the better tennis player. Billie Jean King has an impressive 12 Major Titles to her credit. Margaret Court has 24. In their head-to-heads Court leads King 22-10. They met 5 times in a Major Final, Court won four of them. Both players are praised for not only their stellar singles play but also their doubles acumen. Billie Jean King won a enviable 27 Double Major Championships. Court won 40. There is a valid argument that Margaret Court is the greatest women’s tennis player of all time. There is not an argument that King is.

Margaret Court and Billie Jean King
Billie Jean King and Margaret Court

When it comes to the naming of arenas, Margaret Court’s name at the Australian Open, which she won 11 times (still the record), is not just understandable it is unbelievable for it to be named after anyone else. Court is the greatest tennis player of her generation, of her country and arguably of all time. She has earned the right to have an Arena named after her. It is insulting when King tries to take credit for the arena being named after Court. Court earned the honor.

But as Navratilova states it’s not just what one does off the court but “also who they are as human beings.” Again, let us compare the two women of note with arenas named after them “as human beings”.

Margaret Court is the mother of 4 children. She had 2 of them while playing professional tennis. With her first child she returned to the court to regain the #1 ranking as well as multiple Major Titles. She took a year off with each of the pregnancies before retiring indefinitely with the arrival of her third. She was a woman who put her career behind that of her family. An admirably selfless decision.

After retiring she and her husband devoted their life to their faith. They created the Margaret Court Ministries, they built a church in Perth as well. She has devoted her life to causes that she believes in.

Meanwhile, Billie Jean King took a very different route. King, had two very public cheating scandals. The first was the largest as it outed King in a time when homosexuality was not as accepted as it is today. Her first affair was with Marilyn Barnett while she was married to her husband. Barnett and King were involved for 7 years before their break up ended in a very nasty public and court battle. Barnett sued for financial support. King very publicly refused to assist Barnett. After losing the court battle and being left with nothing, Barnett tried, unsuccessfully, to commit suicide. She is now paralyzed from the waist down. King has never commented publicly on the tragedy.

Marilyn Barnett
Marilyn Barnett lost her lawsuit for financial support after splitting with King. She would unsuccessfully attempt suicide and be left paralyzed.

Again, King would cheat on her husband with her doubles partner, Ilana Kloss. Her husband and her would divorce and King would continue her relationship with Kloss. King would also have a very public abortion in the 1970s. She describes her reasoning today, “Because I was not in a good place… I was trying figure my life out, I was trying to get the tour started. I did not want to bring a baby into the world.” There are a lot of “I’s” in that reasoning.

King believed the life she conceived in her womb was inconvenient. She had too many things to do. The life was not worth nurturing but worth destroying because she was not ready for it. There is nothing, no nothing, more selfish and shameful than that. This is not the case of rape or incest as many abortion advocates use to defend abortion. This was an act of deep selfishness that saw the destruction of a life because her career was more important.

Billie Jean King medal of freedomKing’s legacy is defined by her social justice work. President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom for the good work she has done for women’s sports. But the people that she most loved and most loved and needed her; her husband, Marilyn Barnett and her unborn child, were not treated well be her. She was unfaithful, vindictive and selfish in her relationships with those closest to her. In the words of Navratilova, who was Billie Jean King “as a human being”?

If we are going to start pointing fingers and casting spotlight on people’s character, let us be fair about it. All of us, even those with more liberal views of homosexuality, can look at King’s treatment of Marilyn Barnett and call it shameful. Whether she did it to preserve her marriage, her endorsements or her career, she put her own interests ahead of a woman that loved her and gave her 7 years of her life.

Someone who stands at the other end of the spectrum of politics or religion does not automatically make them a bad human being. Bad human beings are people who have poor character. Margaret Court thinks marriage is between a man and woman. She has a long history of amiable relationships with people who live a lifestyle she does not agree with. She has always treated Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova well publicly and privately, according to King and Navratilova. Yet it is them who have called into question her character.


Yet King’s treatment of the most intimate in her life has not been one of respect nor has she composed herself off the court always in a way worthy of admiration. Lets take a good hard look at what is meant when demands are made for the renaming of Margaret Court. Is it the pursuit of justice or vindictiveness for those that do not agree?

Court, Navrailtolova and King
Margaret Court with Martina Navratilova (far left) and King and other Wimbledon victors.


      • From Court’s own autobiography, published in 1975 or 1976 entitled “Court on Court”. Also from King herself, who said that she defeated Margaret in their first ever meeting in the first round of Wimbledon in 1961 or 1962, and then proceeded to lose the next 13 straight times she played Margaret. But at the end of their rivalry, Billie had won 12 of their last 20 matches. Also a book written by Patrick McEnroe on tennis history and rivalries, as well as Wikipedia, and other sources, which I will try to find, if you would like me to, even though I have already given you plenty of references to support my statement.


  1. “Billie Jean King as an American, has the second most prestigious court at her home Open named after her”.

    This is TOTALLY incorrect and yet another egregious error by the author of this article. The ENTIRE US Open complex is named the “Billie Jean King/USTA National Tennis Center”, not just a SINGLE court, and certainly not the SECOND most important court in the USA. Another case of a reporter distorting facts to make their favorite look better.

    Margaret’s court at Oz is the third most important court at their GS tournament.


  2. Court won so many titles before her main rival was even allowed to participate at the Grand Slams. She won at Oz SEVEN times before the UISLTA allowed BJK to travel down under to play at the Australian, and then only played in one Oz event that Court won in 1969. Court won 3 Roland Garros championships before King was allowed to even play there in 1968. At that time the USLTA chose who would play where, and they selected Nancy Richey for the clay court events, and BJK for the competing grass court tournaments at the time. King was 1-13 against Court for their first 14 matches., but won 12 of their last 20 matches to end the rivalry at 21-13 in favor of Court.


      • What?! How did you get to that conclusion from my post. I don’t blame anyone for anything (except maybe the US(L)TA). But, you have to admit that Margaret had a tremendous head start on Billie Jean in so many ways, and was allowed free reign to play any Slam event she wanted to from 1959 on. Such was not the case with BJK. She was only able to play in the GS events that the US(L)TA allowed her to play in until 1967, when she was FINALLY allowed to enter any Slam she wanted to.


    • Actually, it is the opposite. They did not get along at al during their playing days. It was only years after their retirements that they actually became friends. Billie Jean often mentioned how great it was to stand next to Margaret and chat away while on a line of players from the past receiving some sort of award. And they always made certain to have supper together during the Wimbledon fortnight. I am sure that they have both talked over their differences and have moved on. It is WE, the fans, that are making too much out of it and are holding grudges that the principals themselves do not harbor against each other.


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