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Megan Rapinoe, Simone Biles Among Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipients

Mike Chiari@@mikechiariFeatured Columnist IVJuly 1, 2022

SANDY, UT - JUNE 28: Megan Rapinoe #15 of United States gestures during the friendly game between Colombia and United States at Rio Tinto Stadium on June 28, 2022 in Sandy, Utah. (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images)
Omar Vega/Getty Images

United States women's national soccer team star Megan Rapinoe and Olympic all-around champion gymnast Simone Biles are both set to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom next week.

According to ESPN.com, the White House said in a statement that Rapinoe, Biles and the 15 other people who will be honored next week "have overcome significant obstacles to achieve impressive accomplishments in the arts and sciences, dedicated their lives to advocating for the most vulnerable among us, and acted with bravery to drive change in their communities, and across the world, while blazing trails for generations to come."

Per the USWNT, the ceremony will take place on July 7 at the White House in Washington, D.C.

It will mark a historic moment for Rapinoe and Biles, as they will be just the fifth and sixth female athletes or coaches to receive the honor, joining tennis player Billie Jean King, women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt and golfers Annika Sorenstam and Babe Didrikson Zaharias.

According to Meg Linehan of The Athletic, the ceremony will cause Rapinoe to miss the USWNT's CONCACAF W Championship match against Jamaica on Thursday, but she will be back for a key match against Mexico on July 11.

Overall, just 647 people had ever received the Presidential Medal of Freedom prior to 2022 since it was first instituted by President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

Rapinoe described how she found out about the honor, noting she received a call from the White House on June 23 in between training sessions. Rapinoe added she was told to "please hold for the President of the United States" before she heard the voice of President Joe Biden.

The 36-year-old USWNT member recounted how she felt in that moment and how grateful she is to receive the highest civilian honor in the United States:

"In that moment I spoke to the President, I was, and still am, totally overwhelmed. 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, Alicia and Patrisse—to Marsha P, Sylvia and Billie Jean, the Williams sisters, of course my fiancé Sue Bird, and so many more.

"I am humbled and truly honored to be chosen for this award by President Biden and feel as inspired and motivated as ever to continue this long history of fighting for the freedoms of all people. To quote Emma Lazarus, 'Until we are all free, we are none of us free.'"

Rapinoe has long been outspoken on social issues, such as racial inequality, LGBTQ rights and equal pay for women, the latter of which she and her USWNT teammates achieved in May in the new USWNT and United States men's national team collective bargaining agreements.

Most recently, Rapinoe has spoken out about abortion rights for women, which were jeopardized last week when the United States Supreme Court overturned landmark case Roe v. Wade.

Biles, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest gymnasts of all time, has been an advocate for multiple issues as well, including mental health and the support of sexual-assault victims.

At the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo last summer, Biles pulled out of multiple events, including the individual all-around, in order to focus on and preserve her mental health.

She has also been at the forefront of fighting for the rights of the many gymnasts who were sexually assaulted by longtime United States Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar.

Biles was among those who were assaulted by Nassar, and she spoke on behalf of many victims when testifying at a senate hearing investigating how Nassar's abuse—which saw him sentenced to up to 175 years in prison in January 2018—was allowed to continue in September.

In addition to their stances on social issues, Rapinoe and Biles are two of the most decorated athletes in the histories of their respective sports.

Rapinoe has won two FIFA Women's World Cups and an Olympic gold medal with the USWNT, while the 25-year-old Biles is a four-time Olympic gold medalist, seven-time Olympic medalist and 25-time medalist at the world championships.

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