Megan Rapinoe, OL Reign and USWNT star, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Joe Biden on Thursday morning. The medal is considered the nation’s highest civilian honor.
She’s the first soccer player and sixth female athlete to receive the honor.
“Beyond the World Cup titles and the Olympic medals, Megan is a champion for [an] essential American truth that everyone — everyone — is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect,” Biden said in his speech.
Sixteen others were honored alongside her, including the youngest-ever recipient, Olympic gymnast Simone Biles and actor Denzel Washington. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and Sen. John McCain were honored posthumously.
Rapinoe, who turned 37 on Tuesday, is an Olympic gold medalist with the U.S. women’s national team and a two-time World Cup winner. She captains the Reign.
“Megan, like Simone [Biles], I hope there is room for this medal between all the other awards you and Sue [Bird] have received during your remarkable careers,” Biden said.
Rapinoe came out before the 2012 Olympics, and has since used her platform to push for marriage equality, LGBTQ+ rights, gender pay equity and other social justice issues. She took a knee during the national anthem before a USWNT game in September 2016 in support of NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was protesting racism and police brutality. She’s donated some of her earnings to soccer charities around the world, partnered with the Boys & Girls Club and raised more than $150,000 for victims of a wildfire near her hometown in Northern California.
Rapinoe also helped spearhead the U.S. women’s national team push for equal pay, which resulted in a milestone deal in May that will give the men’s and women’s national team players an equal share in World Cup prize money.
“Megan did something really consequential, she helped lead the change for perhaps the most important victory for anyone on her soccer team, or any soccer team: equal pay for women,” Biden said.
Rapinoe had the initials “BG” on stitched on her lapel, a reference to WNBA player Brittney Griner, who is has been jailed in Russia since February after cannabis oil was found in her luggage. Before the ceremony, Rapinoe posted a photo of her lapel on Instagram with the words, “the most important part of today.” Griner recently wrote to Biden, pleading for her freedom. (She pleaded guilty in Russian court Thursday.)
While the Reign play this weekend against the Portland Thorns, Rapinoe is currently on international duty for the 2022 CONCACAF Championship in Mexico.
She was a substitute in the United States’ 3-0 win over Haiti on Monday, and was scheduled to return to Mexico immediately after the White House ceremony.
“I’m watching you [play and], my Lord, you are good,” Biden said with a smile.