The President of the United States of America presents the recipients with the highest civilian honor, not only for their athletic excellence but also for their cultural and charitable contributions to society.
Here are 10 sporting stars to have received the award:
His bravery and superior Olympic performances proved to overshadow the racial stigma that was present at the time.
The baseball legend won nine World Series with the New York Yankees and was a staple in American culture, known for his large contributions to philanthropy. In 1992, he opened the Joe DiMaggio children’s hospital and raised millions of dollars for charity.
He was the first black athlete in Major League Baseball, playing with the Brooklyn Dodgers and winning a World Series in 1955.
Robinson was able to break the color barrier in the sport while enduring a culture of racism with class and dignity. He changed baseball forever.
Most known for being the first African American to win Wimbledon and the U.S Open in men’s singles.
He was also the first Black American to be ranked as the number one tennis player in the world. Ashe was famous for championing many causes and raised AIDS awareness, which he battled with in his lifetime.
The late golfing legend is considered one of the greatest-ever for his work on and off of the course.
Aside from winning all the major tournaments, Arnold had many charities and hospitals he founded for women and children. The Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children is a world-class facility.
One of the most beloved athletes in America, Nicklaus is not only a sporting legend but he established Nicklaus Health Care Foundation and the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital.
Simply known as ‘The Greatest’. The heavyweight Champion was most known for his stance against the Vietnam war and refusing induction into the military for religious purposes. The boxing legend spent most of his life after boxing in philanthropy and raising awareness of Parkinson’s Disease, an illness he had to battle with for many years.
Popular for breaking down barriers in tennis, She was the number one ranked women’s tennis player in 1968. Off the field, King fought for equal pay rights for women, and has been an activist for most of her life, inspiring many female athletes all around the globe.
KAREEM ABDUL JABBAR
The Hall of Famer Basketball star is the all-time leading scorer in NBA history and a six-time champion. Abdul Jabbar is also a dedicated philanthropist and book author.
He also took social matters seriously and was one of many players during the 1960s that stood by Muhammad Ali in his conscientious objection to the war.
Considered the greatest basketball player to ever live, Jordan enjoyed a stellar career rich in championships and MVP awards.
The basketball legend also had a huge impact on popular culture, from his Air Jordan brand, to the famous sneakers and the tongue wag.
He also is majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats. Business aside, the 53-year-old is very active in the community and charitable causes.
Luke Walton is making the Los Angeles Lakers great again. Okay, maybe not great, but definitely fun. They’re only 15 games into their campaign, but Walton has already managed to change what had previously been a toxic culture.
Of course, the Lakers were going to benefit just by virtue of no longer having Kobe Bryant around to fruitlessly turn back the hands of time, or Byron Scott to do his best impression of an old man yelling at a cloud.
Who knows, maybe if it was Scott Brooks, Frank Vogel or any other recycled coach patrolling the sidelines, the Lakers would still be sitting where they are – at 8-7 and currently in the playoff picture.
For where the franchise currently is at though, the wins and losses are secondary to intangibles like the excitement they inspire, team chemistry and player development. And on that front, few could be doing what Walton is.
Yes, this a franchise with 16 championship banners hanging from the rafters and with a fan base that have great expectations, but Laker fans should be appreciating the long-term foundation that Walton is laying down.
For one, you can actually watch this team now without wanting to claw your eyes out after the 10th Kobe fadeaway clangs off the rim.
They’re still prone to getting stuck in isolation at times – what young team isn’t? – but they do move the ball, as evidenced by ranking 12th in the league in assists per game with 22.1. That hardly makes them the ‘Showtime Lakers’, but it’s definitely progress from ranking dead last in the category last season and 20th in 2014-15.
The improved passing – what a concept! – combined with Walton bringing over principles from his time spent in the Bay and their young talent has allowed the team to have the seventh-best offensive rating in the NBA with 107.6 points per 100 possessions.
By no means are they flawless. Defence is where most of their problems lie, but their offensive firepower has greatly reduced their margin of error on that end of the floor. And yet, the Lakers don’t have a single player who’s scoring at least 20 points per game.
In fact, their highest scorer is sixth man Lou Williams, who’s tallying 16.6 points. He’s one of five players averaging double figures, joined by Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Nick Young. Clarkson, Russell, Randle and Brandon Ingram are really the core pieces the Lakers can build around and they’ve all shown promise this season.
All of a sudden, the franchise has another avenue of returning to prominence, instead of focusing solely on drawing the starriest free agent names, because newsflash, their famed appeal just isn’t there right now.
The bad news for this season is they’ll likely face unintended consequences for unexpectedly being as good as they are, which could see them both miss the playoffs and lose their top-three protected draft pick owed to Philadelphia.
It’s a steep price, but one worth paying to finally bring the Lakers into the modern age and make the team objectively enjoyable.
New York’s Kristaps Porzingis scored 31 points to power the Knicks over Portland 107-103 for their fifth victory in a row at Madison Square Garden. The Trail Blazers had won their prior six visits.
Derrick Rose scored six of his 18 points in the final 3:40 and Brandon Jennings came off the bench to pass out 11 assists for the Knicks. Portland had 22 points from Damian Lillard and 16 from C.J. McCollum.