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President Biden to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Megan Rapinoe, Denzel Washington, and 15 others


President Biden on Thursday will award the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, to 17 people in a wide variety of endeavors, including gymnast Simone Biles, Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington and, posthumously, inventor Steve Jobs and former senator John McCain.

Biden’s list of recipients, his first as president, include stalwarts of politics, sports, entertainment, religion, civil rights, labor and the military.

“President Biden has long said that America can be defined by one word: possibilities. These seventeen Americans demonstrate the power of possibilities and embody the soul of the nation — hard work, perseverance, and faith,” the White House said in a statement last week.

The honorees range from Biles, 25, the most decorated U.S. gymnast in history who has advocated for sexual assault victims, to former senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), 90, the sharp-tongued politician and governor’s son who served 18 years in the Senate and was outspoken on the issue of fiscal responsibility.

Other honorees include Sister Simone Campbell, former director of Network, a Catholic social justice organization, who was instrumental in getting the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010. Biden once joined her “Nuns on the Bus” tour.

The president also is recognizing Washington, an actor, director and producer who has served as the national spokesman for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America for more than 25 years; and Megan Rapinoe, a member of the U.S. women’s national soccer team since 2006 who has won one Olympic gold medal and two World Cup championships. She is also captain of OL Reign, a Seattle-based pro team in the National Women’s Soccer League.

Rapinoe’s exploits on the soccer field are matched by her activism off it. She has played prominent roles in pushing for equal pay for the women’s national team and spoken out on social justice and LGBTQ issues.

Rapinoe has been with the U.S. women’s team in Mexico as it attempts to qualify for the World Cup but she is expected to attend the ceremony.

During his four years in office, President Donald Trump honored 24 people, a list populated by practitioners of his favorite sport of golf — Tiger Woods, Gary Player and Annika Sorenstam — and some of his fiercest political allies, such as radio host Rush Limbaugh and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).

Biden’s list of political honorees includes Republicans and Democrats. Former representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), co-founded Giffords, a nonprofit focused on preventing gun violence, after she was shot in the head at a constituent event in Tucson in January 2011 and gravely wounded. She is married to former astronaut Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), who is up for reelection this year.

Biden served in the Senate with McCain (R-Ariz.), the 2008 Republican presidential nominee and decorated Vietnam War veteran who died in 2018 of brain cancer. McCain’s widow, Cindy, endorsed Biden in 2020 as the Democrat reversed the party’s fortunes in Arizona, winning the state. Cindy McCain is now the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Agencies for Food and Agriculture.

Jobs, who died in 2011 of cancer, was the co-founder and chief executive of Apple, whose company’s inventions revolutionized the lives of billions of people worldwide with its Mac computers, iPhone and the iPod.

The list also includes Khizr Khan, a Gold Star father who has been an advocate for the rule of law and religious freedom while serving on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom; and Wilma Vaught, one of the most decorated women in the history of the U.S. military.

Biden will honor Fred Gray, one of the first Black members of the Alabama legislature since Reconstruction and an attorney who represented civil rights activists such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, along with the NAACP. Other honorees include Raúl Yzaguirre, a civil rights advocate who served as chief executive and president of National Council of La Raza for 30 years, and Diane Nash, a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

  • Juliet García, the former president of the University of Texas at Brownsville and the first Mexican American woman to serve as a college president.
  • Father Alexander Karloutsos, the former vicar general of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
  • Sandra Lindsay, a New York critical-care nurse who served on the front lines of the pandemic response.
  • Richard Trumka, the late president of the AFL-CIO.

Steven Goff contributed to this report.