History was made on Friday when U.S. Soccer announced USWNT star Megan Rapinoe will become the first soccer player to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. U.S. President Joe Biden will award Rapinoe, along with 16 other recipients including gymnast Simone Biles, the medal on July 7 at the White House.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian award in the U.S. and is given to those who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
The highest civilian honor in the United States. @mPinoe will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House on July 7— U.S. Soccer WNT (@USWNT) July 1, 2022
Simone Biles and Megan Rapinoe will be presented with the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by Joe Biden in a ceremony next week, the White House announced Friday pic.twitter.com/wpumUNjjku— ESPN (@espn) July 1, 2022
Rapinoe and the USWNT have been a spearhead in fighting for human rights and equality on and off the field. The OL Reign forward has been an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, human rights, Black Lives Matter and equal pay, where she helped lead the charge in the USWNT’s gender discrimination lawsuit.
Biden called Rapinoe on June 23 during training with the USWNT to break the news to her. She said the moment was unreal.
"In that moment I spoke to the President, I was, and still am, totally overwhelmed,” Rapinoe said. “I just think of all the people who I feel deserve a part of this medal, from my family to current and former teammates, all the women of the U.S. women's national team throughout our history, to Colin Kaepernick, the three woman who founded Black Lives Matter — Opal (Tometi), Alicia (Garza) and Patrisse (Cullors) — to Marsha P. (Johnson), Sylvia and Billie Jean (King), the Williams sisters, of course my fiancé Sue Bird, and so many more.”
One of Rapinoe’s biggest and most polarizing moments of activism was back in September 2016 when she joined former NFL quarterback Kaepernick in kneeling during the national anthem to protest systemic police brutality and white supremacy. The USWNT forward said that was an important moment in her path.
“I think really early on after kneeling when everyone was so mad it just clicked very early on that like this is exactly what I was supposed to be doing,” Rapinoe said to the media on Friday.
In the last six years, Rapinoe has used her voice to be on the front lines fighting for equality. Rapinoe said this award was a recognition of everything she’s been supporting, and it was never about the haters.
“I just see this as a validation of all the things that I’ve stood for and not a validation for me, but it’s a validation of LGBTQIA+ rights, it’s a validation of the Black Lives Matter movement and the movement against the white supremist power structure that we have,” Rapinoe said. “It’s a validation of women’s rights and of equal pay, abortion rights, trans rights and everything that myself and so many others worked so hard for.
“I’m not one you guys know to talk about haters and all that. It’s not really about the haters, it’s more about validating this push for equality and the rights and freedoms for everyone.”
The two-time World Cup winner and Olympic gold medalist will be honored at the White House on July 7. This does mean that she will miss one of the USWNT’s games at the Concacaf W Championship for World Cup and Olympic qualifying.
Rapinoe will miss the second group-stage game against Jamaica on July 7 but return to Mexico from Washington, D.C., to play in the final game of the group against host Mexico on July 11. Rapinoe didn’t appear too bummed to be missing one game as she enthusiastically said to the press:
“I’m going to the fucking White House guys.”