On this day: After Martina outed, AVON stops calling


Martina Navratilova avon

On July 30, 1981, New York’s Daily News outed tennis star, Martina Navratilova. Days earlier, she asked the paper not to go public about her lesbian relationship because she feared Avon would stop sponsoring women’s tennis. A few months later, the cosmetics company did exactly that.

18-year-old Czechoslovakian-born Martina Navratilova applied for asylum in the US in 1975. (Czechoslovakia was under communist rule at the time.) By 1981, she dominated world women’s tennis alongside her sometimes doubles partner, Chris Evert.

But Martina Navratilova had a secret. She was a lesbian. Although unashamed, she remained closeted because of her pending application for US citizenship.

But many people knew of Martina Navratilova’s live-in relationship with lesbian activist and author Rita Mae Brown. The tennis player told friends she would be comfortable speaking about her sexuality publicly once she became a naturalised US citizen.

Billie Jean King’s ‘galimony’ suit

But before that happened, the Billie Jean King scandal erupted. Billie Jean’s former secretary and lover sued the tennis player and her husband for half their income. The famous ‘palimony’ suit effectively outed one of the greatest tennis players of all time.

Billie Jean King lost approximately $2 million in endorsements and Avon received letters from customers stating they would not buy the company’s products if it had any further association with her.

Both Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert claimed they heard rumours Avon would stop supporting women’s tennis if any other top players were exposed as lesbians. Then as now, women’s sport struggled to find funding comparable to that dished out to men’s sport.

“Not now”

The US granted Martina citizenship on July 20, 1981. A few days later, a reporter for the Daily News rang her in Monte Carlo where she was competing in a tournament. She admitted to being bisexual and spoke openly about her recently-ended relationship with Rita Mae Brown. But she also asked the reporter not to report her comments until she was ready to come out publicly.

“If I talk, I feel I can be a good example to other people.

“But not now.”

However, the Daily News went ahead and published the article on July 30.

The following January, Avon declined to renew its sponsorship of women’s tennis.

Martina Navratilova later confirmed she was not bisexual but a lesbian.

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