Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
US men’s swimmer Michael Phelps just can’t win.
Don’t get me wrong, Phelps is a champion’s champion. The Maryland native owned Olympic swimming and is the most decorated athlete in any sport in history. He has nearly 100 international medals, including 28 Olympic medals on his wall, an almost unthinkable number that includes an astonishing 23 gold medals. In the six years since he left the competitive pool in 2016, no one has been able to beat him. He still owns 7 world records. He never caused issues among his fellow athletes or used his unchallenged prowess to lecture anyone about anything. He had an issue or two, as do millions of people while they’re growing up, but Phelps is a true American legend.
Megan Rapinoe, on the other hand, is known as much for losing as for winning and for kneeling for the National Anthem before national team games and lecturing on politics as much as for anything she’s done on the field. Yes, at times she has been the best player on the US Women’s National Soccer Team, and with teammates such as Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach through her career that’s no mean feat. She’s an inventive player full of useful trickery – on the field. But the teams she has led have been far less consistent winners than Phelps. Her team shockingly fell to Japan in the 2011 World Cup final, and lost to Canada in the 2021 Olympics and they’ve had other bad dropoffs in between their championships.
Soccer is a team sport, so you can’t blame Rapinoe every time they lose. That wouldn’t be fair. But according to former teammates Carli Lloyd and Hope Solo, you can blame Rapinoe for creating a toxic atmosphere on the team. After leaving the USWNT, both have spoken out about Rapinoe and other players divisively and selfishly turning the team into their brand and personal political soapbox. She bullied all but Lloyd, who scored an incredible 134 career international goals (Rapinoe has scored 62), into those kneeling demonstrations, according to Solo. Lloyd deserves a medal for her lonely, courageous stand for America. Like Phelps, she didn’t get one.
You can also blame Rapinoe when transgender soccer players take over the women’s game if it ever comes to that. When she had the opportunity to stand up for her fellow females and keep men from unfairly taking slots on women’s teams and competing for medals, endorsements, and records, Rapinoe chose to toe the trans line. Women increasingly, and rightly, fear that transgender athletes will crowd them out of their own sports, erase decades of hard-won progress, and gobble up their scholarship opportunities and shatter their records. Some states are passing laws defending women in women’s sports. The international swimming body, FINA, recently voted to keep biological women at the center of women’s swimming. That took guts in a time when even J.K. Rowling faces howling trans mobs. Rapinoe could have shown courage in the face of the mob and pushed back too, but she’s a sellout to whatever the hard left is selling today. Now that she’s the wrong side of 30 and nearing retirement from competitive soccer, trans women taking over teams won’t be her problem.
Despite all this, despite losing on the big stage repeatedly, even despite helping crash the Subway brand just as it was overcoming the Jared disaster, Megan Rapinoe and gymnastics champion Simone Biles now have a medal that Michael Phelps doesn’t: the Presidential Medal of Freedom. That’s the highest honor the United States bestows on civilians.
President Joe Biden awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor to Rapinoe and Biles this past week, sparking the usual cheers from the usual leftist suspects who love it when the left takes over valued institutions and wears them like skin suits, but also sparking consternation and even outrage from some who recall Phelps and his incredible life and career. How is Phelps less deserving than either Biles or Rapinoe?
You can say both Biles, the undisputed GOAT in women’s gymnastics, and Rapinoe have “furthered conversations” about various things, and you’d be right. So has Michael Phelps. The most decorated athlete ever has used his struggles for good, opening up conversations and establishing the Michael Phelps Foundation to leave a lasting legacy beyond sports. The great athlete is also a good man. You can say Biles and Rapinoe are distinguished champions, and you’d be right again.
But so is Michael Phelps. He has more medals than both of them.
Everything you can possibly say about Biles and Rapinoe overcoming obstacles, beating the odds, representing America on the world stage, advancing their sport, you can also say about Phelps. But Phelps never bullied anyone like Rapinoe did and still does, and unlike Biles, he never quit when medals were on the line. Rapinoe is a known bully, her former teammates say so and it’s obvious in how she viciously slams anyone who disagrees with her politics. Biles has won gold, reinvented her sport, and made America proud multiple times both in competition and for her courage in exposing sexual assault, but she did withdraw from multiple events during the Tokyo Olympics, leaving her team in the lurch and searching for its talismanic leader when they needed her most. Phelps never did that, even in his later competitive years when age was finally slowing him down.
Here’s Michael Phelps’ real problem: He is a straight, white, patriotic male. This disqualifies him from being awarded a medal he obviously deserves, because this White House goes out of its way to trash America, to divide, and to lift up dividers. President Biden’s handlers have made it their mission to make everything about their narrow-minded politics, and use every opportunity to be snarky jerks when they could show some American class. They awarded Rapinoe for being an obnoxious leftist who constantly takes pot shots at the country that enabled her privileged life. In putting that medal on Rapinoe, Joe Biden effectively knelt for the National Anthem himself.
A.J. Rice is author of the book, The Woking Dead: How Society’s Vogue Virus Destroys Our Culture. He serves as CEO of Publius PR, a premier communications firm in Washington D.C.
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