ST. PETERSBURG, FL, USA - Tributes were paid around the world Wednesday as the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) celebrated the 50th anniversary of the game-changing tennis professionals known as the Original 9 and the iconic $1 contracts they signed with visionary promoter Gladys Heldman on September 23, 1970.
In recognition of one of the most influential moments in the history of gender equality in athletics, celebrities across sport, music, film and media mobilized virtually to honor the courageous acts of the nine women who risked their careers, in order to pave a better future for women in sports. Five decades later, the activism of the Original 9 and Gladys Heldman has helped shape women’s professional tennis to become the world’s leading female sport.
The formal commemorations of the anniversary included a virtual charity fundraiser staged by WTA Charities in association with the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative, dedicating a portion of funds raised to support COVID-19 relief efforts for women. Highlights of the special event will be featured on WTA channels this week, including a conversation between renowned broadcaster Mary Carillo and the Original 9 members, special tributes from celebrities such as Elton John and Sarah Silverman, and musical entertainment by Sara Bareilles and Gladys Knight. Instrumental support for the fundraiser was provided by the global tennis, business and charitable foundation communities that helped raise more than $1 million in donations.
The evening culminated with the announcement of the WTA Courage Award, a new honor established by the WTA and awarded to individuals or groups who reflect the solidarity and courage demonstrated by the Original 9 and Gladys Heldman. The forthcoming annual award will serve as a legacy to the Original 9’s leadership and their extraordinary contribution.
Reflecting on the evening’s celebration, WTA President Micky Lawler stated, "We are humbled and privileged to have such courageous women at the heart of our sport and history. They took a risk on themselves and the future of women’s tennis in 1970, and today we’re fortunate enough to be living their dream. Through the new Courage Award, we look to carry their legacy on for future generations to come and will continue to champion for equality just as the Original 9 and Gladys Heldman did for us 50 years ago."
Celebrations continued as WTA players, legends, tournament partners, and fans across the global tennis community joined the WTA’s "A Dollar Makes a Difference" campaign by posting tribute images on social media, many holding a dollar bill, using #Original9.
Fans can show their support and continue the legacy of the Original 9 by: Fans can show their support and continue the legacy of the Original 9 by:
• Supporting WTA Charities’ and the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative’s fundraising COVID relief effort for women and additional programs that continue to support and produce positive changes in communities worldwide. Donations can be made at wtacharities.wtatennis.com/donate
• Learning and sharing the history of the Original 9 here as told by the Tennis Channel’s 11-part series
For additional information on the WTA and the ongoing stories of the Original 9, visit the WTA’s dedicated Original 9 web page, or follow #Original9 on social media.
The 50th anniversary celebration and virtual charity fundraiser, A Salute to the Original 9 & Gladys Heldman, was organized with the support of valued contributors including the International Tennis Federation (ITF), Tennis Australia, French Tennis Federation (FFT), AELTC - Wimbledon and the United States Tennis Association (USTA). Generous donations have also been received from Altria Group, Anthem Foundation, Atria Senior Living, Brightstar Capital Partners, Bristol Myers Squibb. Centene Charitable Foundation, EY (Ernst and Young), Franklin Templeton, Jeff Bezos, Jennifer and Jonathan Allan Soros Foundation, The Kraft Group, The Margaret Fund by Deborah and John Larkin, Susan Anderson and Bob Arthur, Teneo, Tennis Channel and UBS.