United States soccer star Megan Rapinoe honoured fellow queer Olympian Brittney Griner while receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Joe Biden on Thursday, July 7.
The highest civilian honor in the US, the Medal of Freedom has never before gone to a soccer player, and has gone to a female athlete only five other times. Rapinoe received the award along with 16 other impressive Americans, such as the first American to get the Covid-19 vaccine, and gun violence survivor and gun control advocate Representative Gabrielle Giffords.
Rapinoe boasts a tremendous list of accomplishments, including winning two World Cups and two Olympic gold medals since joining the US Women’s National Team in 2006.
However, as the President noted while presenting her medal, “Beyond the World Cup titles and the Olympic medals, Megan is a champion for [an] essential American truth that everyone — everyone — is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect.”
Rapinoe is famous for using her celebrity to advocate for a variety of causes. Recently, she campaigned for gender equality in sports as the US Women’s National Team sued the US Soccer Federation for equal pay and working conditions to that of the men’s team. She is additionally outspoken in her avid support for racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement, joining American football player Colin Kapernick in kneeling during the national anthem.
Megan Rapinoe receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the U.S., for her work in advocating for gender pay equality, racial justice and LGBTQI+ rights ? pic.twitter.com/wPMkGYaf4c
— B/R Football (@brfootball) July 7, 2022
An out lesbian, she also fervently champions marriage equality and LGBTQ+ rights, including the inclusion of Trans people in sports. Testifying in front of the US Congress regarding equal pay, Rapinoe answered a question about the inclusion of Trans people by saying, “As a member of the LGBTQ community, I firmly stand with the Trans family and that whole community. And as someone who has played sports with someone who is Trans I can assure you all is well, nothing is spontaneously combusting.”
Rapinoe paid tribute to WNBA athlete Brittney Griner while receiving her medal through the embroidery of Griner’s initials on her suit lapel, in what she called “the most important part of today” on her Instagram story.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist and openly gay athlete was arrested upon her arrival in Moscow in mid-February. Russian authorities say they found vape pens containing cannabis oil in Griner’s luggage, and have charged her with possession of an illegal substance and the charges could lead to a 10-year sentence in a Russian penal colony.
The same day Rapinoe paid this tribute while receiving her medal, Griner pled guilty to the drug charges after nearly five months of detainment.
“I’d like to plead guilty, your honour. But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law,” Griner said in her plea, which was then translated, according to Reuters. One of her lawyers, Maria Blagovolina, told reporters that Griner’s misstep occurred through packing for her trip to Russia rapidly.
“She committed the crime out of carelessness, getting ready to board a plane to Russia in a hurry, not intending to break Russian law,” Blagovolina said.
Fears are widespread that Russia is using Griner as a political pawn, a sentiment reiterated by Rapinoe in another post to her Instagram story. The current highly tense relationship between the US and Russia makes this an especially concerning prospect.
The New York Times reported that the court finding Griner guilty is “all but a foregone conclusion in a Russian legal system that heavily favors the prosecution,” and that according to experts, Griner’s best chance would be for the United States to make a deal with Russia in a prisoner swap.
The prisoner the Times says Russia would be likely to swap for Griner is Viktor Bout, an arms dealer from Russia currently serving a sentence of 25 years. However, Russian officials have said that Griner’s trial must conclude before any sort of deal can begin to be negotiated.
US officials have said they are committed to bringing the basketball player home, and have reiterated this statement over the months that Griner has been in Russia. The US Department of State deemed her arrest ‘wrongful detainment’ in May, and the House of Representatives recently passed a bipartisan resolution which demanded her release. President Biden and Griner have also traded letters.
Still, while Griner clearly has the support from everyone including fellow athletes like Rapinoe and various politicians, a prisoner swap could take years to actually happen, and as tensions continue between the US and Russia, Griner remains caught in the middle.
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