Skip to content

Billie Jean King event honors Olympic medalists, civil rights advocates


Olympic track and field medalists and civil rights advocates Tommie Smith and John Carlos were honored Saturday with the Joe Shapiro Award during Cal State L.A.’s 17th annual Billie Jean King and Friends event. The evening program took place in the Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena.

Smith won the gold medal and Carlos claimed the bronze medal in the 200-meter race at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, and their protest on the medal stand became one of the most iconic—and controversial—moments in the history of the Olympics.

Smith and Carlos raised their fists with black gloves and bowed their heads during the playing of the national anthem to call attention to the treatment of African Americans in the U.S. and to show solidarity with people fighting internationally for human rights.

“Tommie Smith and John Carlos displayed tremendous courage on the Olympic medal podium,” said Cal State L.A. President William A. Covino. “Their actions helped advance the national dialogue on civil rights and race relations, and they went on to become champions for academic excellence and achievement. It is a pleasure to honor them tonight as heroes whose contributions have benefited us all.”

The Billie Jean King and Friends event is the major fundraiser for the athletics department, with proceeds benefiting the student-athlete scholarship fund at Cal State L.A. King, a Cal State L.A. alumna, has helped generate more than $3 million for scholarships through this annual event.

“Billie Jean King is one of Cal State L.A.’s most generous supporters and she exemplifies the Golden Eagle spirit. We owe her a debt of gratitude,” Covino said.

The Joe Shapiro Award is presented in memory of Joe Shapiro, who was a member of the Billie Jean King Executive Committee and worked enthusiastically to assist student-athletes in reaching their educational and athletic goals. The award is given annually to individuals whose work and service to the community promote a positive and lasting impact. Shapiro was also a teacher at Cal State L.A. and the husband of tennis hall of famer Pam Shriver.

Past recipients of the Joe Shapiro Award have included King, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Chris Evert, Dr. Sally Ride, Patricia Cornwell, Maria Shriver, Anne Douglas, Rafer Johnson, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and last year’s honorees, Dr. Joan Johnson and Scotty Deeds.

Saturday morning, more than 25 budding tennis players from the Boys and Girls Club of East Los Angeles, as well as others from the community, participated in a tennis clinic sponsored by the United States Tennis Association at Cal State L.A. They received instruction from current and former Cal State L.A. tennis players and coaches, along with players from UC Irvine’s club team.

The youth had an opportunity to meet King and tennis star Rosie Casals. The event also featured a competition between coed club teams from UC Irvine and Cal State L.A. that was played in King’s World Team Tennis format.