Megan Rapinoe was having lunch with her teammates between a weight-lifting session and an on-field practice at the Denver Broncos Training Center on June 23 – the 50th anniversary of the passage of Title IX -- when her phone rang. The screen flashed: “The White House.”
Rapinoe, immediately thinking it was robocall or that maybe she was being pranked by her teammates, showed the phone screen to teammate Kelley O’Hara.
“You probably need to pick that up,” said the Washington, D.C. resident O’Hara. After three or four rings, she did.
But not before O’Hara, showing grace under pressure, suggested that Rapinoe disconnect her phone from a portable speaker. Rapinoe been listening to a Drake song on her phone, and it was blasting through the sound system.
With the phone hastily disconnected from speaker, she picked up.
“Is this Megan Rapinoe,” said the voice on the other end of the line.
“Uh, yeah,” replied Rapinoe.
“Please hold for the President of the United States,” said the White House Operator.
And onto the line came President Joe Biden. After first teasing Rapinoe about the red card she’d received a few days earlier, the first of her career at any level, he proceeded to tell her the reason for the call.
He had chosen her to receive the highest civilian honor that can be bestowed in the United States, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, an award given out by the President of the United States to recognize individuals who have made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values, or security of the United States, world peace, or other significant societal, public or private endeavors.
“In that moment I spoke to the President, I was, and still am, totally overwhelmed,” said Rapinoe. “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 is the first soccer player to receive the award and one of just six female athletes or coaches to be so honored along fellow 2022 recipient and Olympic gold medal gymnast Simone Biles, tennis player and women’s rights pioneer Billie Jean King, 1932 Summer Olympics track and field gold medalist and professional golfer Babe Didrikson Zaharias, women’s basketball legend Pat Summitt and professional golfer Annika Sörenstam.
Before this year, just 647 people have received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the past 59 years since the award was first given out in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy.