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Soccer star Megan Rapinoe receives Presidential Medal of Freedom

The Olympic champion and gender equity advocate was among 17 recipients of the nation's highest civilian honor.
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President Joe Biden on Thursday awarded the American soccer star Megan Rapinoe the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Rapinoe was among 17 recipients, along with gymnast and fellow Olympian Simone Biles, the Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington and Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who died in 2018.

Rapinoe is the first soccer player to receive the award and one of just six female athletes or coaches.

"Beyond the World Cup title to Olympic medals, Megan is a champion for essential American truth that everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect," Biden said at the award ceremony at the White House. "She helped lead the change for perhaps the most important victory for anyone on our soccer team or any soccer team: equal pay for women."

Rapinoe has been a member of the U.S. Women's National Team since 2006 and has helped the team win two Olympic medals and two World Cup championships.Off the field, she has made a name for herself for her contribution to LGBTQ equality and equality in women's sports.

Megan Rapinoe
President Joe Biden awards the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to Megan Rapinoe at the White House on Thursday. J. Scott Applewhite / AP

In 2016, Rapinoe and four other U.S. Women’s National Team players filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against the U.S. Soccer Federation, alleging gender discrimination. Then in 2019, 28 members of the team, including Rapinoe, filed a similar lawsuit, citing years of gender discrimination in pay, medical treatment and overall workload.

The group of five players reached a settlement with the U.S. Soccer Federation in February, receiving $24 million and securing an agreement from the federation to pay men and women equally in all exhibition games, or friendlies, and tournaments.

“For us, this is just a huge win in ensuring that we not only right the wrongs of the past, but set the next generation up for something we only dreamed of,” Rapinoe told NBC’s “TODAY” show after the settlement was reached.

In May, U.S. Soccer announced a collective bargaining agreement with the women's and men's national teams to close the gender pay gap.

Rapinoe is the latest openly LGBTQ American to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, following comedian Ellen DeGeneres, gay rights activist and politician Harvey Milk, and playwright Tennessee Williams.

"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," Rapinoe said in a statement after being named a medal recipient last month. "To quote Emma Lazarus, ‘Until we are all free, we are none of us free.’”

The Presidential Medal of Freedom was established by the Truman administration in 1945 to commemorate civilian efforts during World War II. But in 1963, President John F. Kennedy revived the tradition, honoring leading figures in American culture and innovation.

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