Washington (AFP) – US soccer icon Megan Rapinoe paid silent tribute Thursday to a fellow sports star — basketballer Brittney Griner, who is detained in Russia — during a White House awards ceremony.
As she and several others received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest American civilian honor, Rapinoe wore a white pantsuit with the initials “BG” and a flower embroidered on the lapel.
Griner, who has been imprisoned in Russia since February, pleaded guilty to drug smuggling charges earlier Thursday in a case that has further inflamed tensions between Moscow and Washington.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist and WNBA champion, detained days before Russia sent troops to Ukraine, faces up to a decade behind bars for bringing vape cartridges with cannabis oil into the country, but insists she did not intend to break the law.
US President Joe Biden “is going to do everything he can to make sure she gets home safely,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said in response to criticism from the basketball star's family on the administration's involvement.
In addition to Rapinoe, who helped lead the US women's national soccer team to 2019 World Cup victory and advocates for LGBTQ+ rights, Biden also commemorated gymnastics champion Simone Biles for shining a light on mental health struggles.
Other award recipients included former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who is a survivor of gun violence, the nurse who was the first person in the United States to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, and posthumous awards for Apple founder Steve Jobs and Republican senator and war hero John McCain.
“This is America,” Biden said of the esteemed group.
Also honored was Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington, who could not attend the White House ceremony because he recently tested positive for Covid.