WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden awarded the Medal of Freedom to two politically active female athletes — soccer star Megan Rapinoe and gymnast Simone Biles — and to the late Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs as part of his first slate of recipients of the nation’s highest civilian honor.
At 25, Biles is the youngest-ever medal recipient, while Rapinoe is the first soccer player to receive the award, Biden said at a White House ceremony Thursday.
“Beyond the World Cup titles and Olympic medals, Megan is a champion for the essential American truth that everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect,” Biden said of Rapinoe, who has campaigned for equal pay for women athletes and on behalf of LGBTQ+ causes.
Other recipients included actor Denzel Washington; Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona congresswoman who survived a shooting during a 2011 constituent event and subsequently founded a nonprofit promoting stronger gun laws; and Biden’s longtime Senate colleague John McCain, who — like Jobs — received the award posthumously.
Giffords, Biden said, is “proof that we’ll not grow numb to the epidemic of gun violence in this nation, proof that we can channel the pain and sorrow we see too often in America.”
President John F. Kennedy established the award to honor people who contribute significantly to American culture or the national interest through public or private actions. Former President Donald Trump’s award winners included athletes like Babe Ruth and Tiger Woods, as well as political allies such as Reps. Jim Jordan and Devin Nunes and talk show host Rush Limbaugh.
As vice president, Biden himself was President Barack Obama’s final Medal of Freedom recipient. Obama awarded a record 123 medals.
Washington missed Thursday’s ceremony because he’s contracted COVID-19.