President Joe Biden announced the 17 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and one of those recipients is Megan Rapinoe, the American professional soccer player who won gold at the 2012 London Summer Olympics and led the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team to victory both the 2015 and 2019 Women’s World Cups.
It’s not hard to see why she is being so honored. Rapinoe has been vocal about gender equality in sports, both when it comes to equal pay and transgender participation. Rapinoe’s political activism has been a guiding light for many others in athletics who follow her example. The out soccer player has earned this prestigious award for a significant amount of striving to be the best role model she possibly can be.
Earlier this year, Rapinoe fought alongside her fellow players to win equal pay for women in soccer. The policy change came after she and 27 of her teammates filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint for equal pay in 2016 and then a lawsuit in 2019 accusing the U.S. Soccer Federation of gender discrimination. They settled the lawsuit for $24 million earlier this year.
One of the biggest issues of contention on equal pay was the difference in World Cup prize money. The women‘s U.S. team has won the World Cup four times, while the men’s U.S. team’s highest rank at the FIFA World Cup was in 1930 when the team got third place.
But despite performing better in their respective tournament, FIFA just pays more in prize money to men’s soccer teams. FIFA payments totaled $400 million for the 2018 men’s World Cup but a mere $30 million for the 2019 women‘s World Cup.
Rapinoe has also been a vocal advocate for trans rights in sports. In 2020, Rapinoe was one of 174 women who signed an amicus brief in support of transgender girls and women playing sports as their gender identity.
“As women and LGBTQ+ athletes,” says their brief, they “submit that all youth deserve an equal opportunity to participate in sports alongside their peers. Such equal opportunity benefits the entire sports community.”
The brief was filed in Hecox v. Little, a lawsuit brought against the state of Idaho, which passed a law in 2020 banning transgender girls and women from competing in school sports as girls and women.
Rapinoe has also been one of the first same-sex couples on the cover of ESPN’s 2017 Body Issue, providing visibility to queer athletes. She was also named Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year in 2019.
Politically, Rapinoe has been an outspoken supporter of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement – appearing in PSAs, wearing supportive jerseys, and taking a knee on-field during the national anthem to protest anti-Black institutionalized racism.
Rapinoe also signed onto a September 2021 legal brief submitted to the Supreme Court supporting abortion rights, arguing that reproductive freedom is integral to supporting women‘s sports.