Megan Rapinoe: “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.” (Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports)

Megan Rapinoe will be forced to miss the U.S. women’s national team game against Jamaica in the Concacaf W Championship on July 7 and she isn’t injured.

But she has a real good excuse.

The veteran forward will receive the nation’s highest civilian honor when the President of the United States awards her the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House on that day, U.S. Soccer announced on Friday.

The award recognizes people 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.

Rapinoe is the first soccer player to receive the award and one of 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, 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.

The announcement was made earlier Friday, but Rapinoe was informed about a week ago while in training camp with the USWNT in Denver. Rapinoe was having lunch with her teammates between a weight-lifting session and a practice at the Denver Broncos Training Center 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 to four rings, she did.

President Biden was on the other side of the call.

“In that moment I spoke to the President, I was, and still am, totally overwhelmed,” Rapinoe said in a statement. “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 will be awarded the medal at the White House on July 7 along with 16 other recipients. Rapinoe will travel from Mexico, where the USA is playing in the Concacaf W Championship, to Washington, D.C. and will miss the USA’s second Group A match against Jamaica but will return and be available for selection for the July 11 match vs. Mexico to conclude the first round.

“Megan is of course very disappointed about missing a game, but I told her to go,” U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski said in a statement. “She has to go. This is a once in a lifetime honor, she deserves it, and she will be representing herself, her team and her country at the White House. I think I can speak for everyone at U.S. Soccer when I say we are very proud of Megan and the impact she’s made on our sport and our country as a person and a player.”

 

FOR YOUR SUMMER READING: An entertaining book about the Rochester Lancers and an education about the early days of the modern pro soccer era