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Monday, July 4, 2011
Billie Jean King among our Revolutionary heroes

By Amanda Rykoff

In honor of the Fourth of July and its celebration of freedom, espnW takes a look at notable declarations of independence in the sports world.

Billie Jean King and the "Original 9" declare tennis independence

Tennis is big business and the leading professional sport for women. But the WTA's success -- and the controversy over grunting and shrieking -- would not be possible without the actions of pioneer Billie Jean King and eight other female tennis players: Rosie Casals, Nancy Richey, Kerry Melville, Peaches Bartkowicz, Kristy Pigeon, Judy Dalton, Valerie Ziegenfuss and Julie Heldman. Dubbed the "Original 9," they changed the course of tennis history.

Tired of a separate and unequal landscape where men controlled the tournaments and where prize money for women was significantly less than for their male counterparts, King and her compatriots took the brave step of declaring independence in Sept. 1970. They left what was then known as the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association and signed $1 contracts to play in the new Virginia Slims series. The Virginia Slims was the precursor to the WTA, which was established in 1973. How revolutionary was this step? Title IX, largely viewed as the turning point for the growth of women's sports in the United States, wasn't passed until 1972.

Curt Flood: baseball's Patrick Henry

Love it or hate it, as soon as the World Series ends, the free agent frenzy starts. But it wasn't always that way. It started with the act of one man who helped bring about a revolution in baseball. Scott Boras and his clients can thank Curt Flood, who sacrificed his career to help players achieve the economic freedom they take for granted today. Flood's revolutionary step is baseball's version of Patrick Henry's "Give me liberty, or give me death" speech.

Flood was a three-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove winner as the center fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1960s. At the peak of his career, following the 1969 season, the Cardinals tried to trade Flood to the Philadelphia Phillies. Flood refused to accept the trade and decided to challenge baseball's "reserve clause," a provision in the standard player's contract that effectively tied a player to a team in perpetuity. Flood essentially demanded to become a "free agent," though that term did not exist then. When the commissioner refused his demands, Flood sued.

The lawsuit eventually reached the Supreme Court. Though the court ruled against Flood and upheld baseball's long-standing antitrust exemption, his unprecedented actions were the first step on the road to free agency. Major league baseball players achieved that goal in 1975 with the Messersmith-McNally rulings.

To read the rest, check out the story here on espnW.