Martina Navratilova has been named one of the "Top Forty Athletes of All-Time" by Sports Illustrated and "the greatest singles, doubles, and mixed doubles player who's ever lived." She won the Wimbledon women's singles title a record nine times, eighteen Grand Slam singles titles, thirty-one Grand Slam women's doubles titles (an all-time record), ten Grand Slam mixed doubles titles and is the oldest tennis player to ever win a Grand Slam title.
As a child, Navratilova knew that staying in her home country might limit her chances on the professional tennis circuit. With Czechoslovakia under Soviet control, 18-year-old Navratilova defected to the United States at the 1975 U.S. Open. The decision meant she'd be cut off from her family for years, but it also set her career up for an unprecedented level of success. In 1978, she won her first Grand Slam tournament with a straight-set victory over American Chris Evert at Wimbledon.
Navratilova was fearless on the court but, remarkably, even more courageous off it. Thirty two years before twelve-year veteran NBA center Jason Collins became the first active professional male athlete to come out as homosexual, Navratilova was an openly gay professional tennis champion.
In 1981, shortly after becoming a United States citizen, Navratilova came out publicly about her sexual orientation through a column written by Skip Bayless. She would later write in her 1985 autobiography, Martina,"I never thought there was anything strange about being gay."
She has remained a champion of Collins' decision, saying "You have to be true to yourself, whoever you are. At the time, it didn't seem to be as big of a deal as this was. It was terrific. I was so happy for him."
When not playing tennis, Navratilova is involved with various charities that benefit animal rights, underprivileged children, and gay rights. She participated in a lawsuit against Amendment 2, a 1992 ballot proposition in Colorado designed to deny gays and lesbians legal protection from discrimination. In 1993, she spoke before the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation, and in 2000 she was the recipient of National Equality Award from the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay and lesbian activist/lobbying group.
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