“Everyone thinks women should be thrilled when we get crumbs, and I want women to have the cake, the icing and the cherry on top, too.”
Those were the words famously spoken by tennis legend Billie Jean King in 1970 as she led a crusade calling for female players to earn equal prize money. Throughout her career and in the decades since that proclamation, King has championed equality and social justice and her efforts have created opportunities for both women and the LGBTQ community—and at age 76, she’s still charging on.
That’s why King kicks off The Unrelenting, Sports Illustrated’s list celebrating the women in sports who are powerful, persistent and purposeful in their pursuits—for athletic greatness, gender equality, social justice and more. Women who are innovating, influencing and inspiring. Women who are showing up, speaking out, setting the bar and making a difference, both inside and outside of competition.
From athletes and activists, to executives, coaches and more, the group of honorees is diverse and spans a variety of sports and fields, but all of the women share a common thread: They’re all changing the game.
Billie Jean King
Tennis legend and social activist
A true icon and one of the most renowned tennis players in history, King has dedicated her life to fighting for change and equality, using her on-court skills to garner respect and recognition for female athletes and her activism to help pass Title IX and secure opportunities for the women in sports today. King is the first female athlete to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom; the first woman to have a namesake major sporting venue, the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York; and, most recently, the International Tennis Federation reamed its annual team competition the “Billie Jean King Cup” in her honor. In the years since and at age 76, King has not ceased her social change efforts but intensified them, continuing to fight for equal pay in sports, leading the work of the Women's Sports Foundation and serving as a mentor and role model for the next generation of women determined to create change.
WTA World No. 3 and three-time Grand Slam champion
In the seven matches it took to win her third major title at the 2020 U.S. Open, Osaka donned seven masks, all spotlighting the names of Black victims of police brutality and racial injustice. While her three-set, comeback victory over Victoria Azarenka in the final was undeniably impressive, the 22-year-old has been resolute and relentless in using her platform to speak up in 2020. “All the people that were telling me to ‘keep politics out of sports’ (which it wasn’t political at all), really inspired me to win. You better believe I’m gonna try to be on your tv for as long as possible,” she tweeted after her win in New York.
Minnesota Lynx forward
Since stepping away from basketball and hitting pause on her flourishing career in early 2019, Maya Moore has been a tireless advocate for criminal justice reform, ultimately helping to free Jonathan Irons, the man whose case she became heavily involved in and married in 2020. A four-time WNBA champion and 2014 WNBA MVP, Moore has now sat out two straig