Yankees’ Rivera Is Latest Athlete to Receive Medal of Freedom

Justin Sink

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump awarded New York Yankees great Mariano Rivera with the nation’s highest civilian honor on Monday, weeks after the major league’s all-time-saves leader was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Rivera, 49, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom during an afternoon ceremony at the White House. He becomes the latest in a series of athletes Trump has recognized with the award, following ceremonies for NBA hall-of-famers Jerry West and Bob Cousy and professional golfer Tiger Woods earlier this year.

The ceremonies have become a way for Trump to celebrate athletic achievement despite reluctance by many championship-winning professional sports teams to appear at White House ceremonies amid controversies over the president’s rhetoric and immigration policies.

Trump and Rivera are longtime friends, with the former Yankees closer serving as a co-chair of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition. Rivera was introduced with Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” the song that played when he was called in from the bullpen during his career.

“He has lived the American dream,” Trump said on Monday.

Rivera visited the White House in June for a meeting with Vice President Mike Pence, attended a 2018 White House Sports and Fitness Day, and was part of the U.S. delegation to the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi earlier this year.

“I respect him,” Rivera said of Trump during an interview with Fox News earlier this year. “I respect what he does and I believe he’s doing the best for the United States of America.”

Trump has also showered Rivera -- who notched 652 regular season and 42 postseason saves over his career -- with praise. He tweeted earlier this year that the 13-time All Star was “not only a great player but a great person” after Hall of Fame voters made him the first player ever unanimously elected.

Rivera isn’t the first Yankees great to receive the Medal of Freedom from Trump. Slugger Babe Ruth was among the president’s first batch of announced honorees, alongside the legendary singer and actor Elvis Presley, former Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, and former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

The award was established by President John F. Kennedy to honor those who contributed significantly to American culture or the national interest through public or private actions. President Barack Obama awarded a record 123 medals, including to two Supreme Court justices, numerous athletes, and recording artists such as Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder.

Other past honorees include Steven Spielberg, Muhammad Ali, Angela Merkel, Nancy Reagan, Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

(Updates with Trump comment in fifth paragraph. An earlier version corrected formal title of presidential medal in second and seventh paragraph and headline.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Justin Sink in Washington at jsink1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alex Wayne at awayne3@bloomberg.net, Elizabeth Wasserman, Kathleen Hunter

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