Retired Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully and former Los Angeles Laker Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were among 21 people who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, during a ceremony Tuesday at the White House.
“The Presidential Medal of Freedom is not just our nation’s highest civilian honor — it’s a tribute to the idea that all of us, no matter where we come from, have the opportunity to change this country for the better,” President Barack Obama said earlier, when the recipients were announced.
“From scientists, philanthropists and public servants to activists, athletes and artists, these 21 individuals have helped push America forward, inspiring millions of people around the world along the way.”
According to the White House, the medals recognize people who have made “especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
Scully received the honor seven days before his 89th birthday.
In presenting the award, Obama noted that “generations of Dodger fans” brought radios to the stadium because even though they were watching the game in person, they didn’t want to miss Scully’s voice calling the game.
“Since Jackie Robinson started at second base, Vin taught us the game and introduced us to its players,” Obama said.
The president quipped that he considered having Scully lead the medal- presentation ceremony in his place.
“Which would have been very cool,” Obama said. “But I thought we shouldn’t make him sing for his supper like that.”
While praising Abdul-Jabbar for his social activism and career achievements, Obama reflected back on the retired NBA star’s college days at UCLA, noting that after “dominating college basketball” in 1967, the NCAA banned the dunk.
“They didn’t say it was about Kareem, but it was about Kareem,” Obama said. “When a sport changes its rules to make it harder just for you, you are really good.”
Other recipients included comedian/talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres, architect Frank Gehry, singers Diana Ross and Bruce Springsteen and actors Robert De Niro, Tom Hanks, Cicely Tyson and Robert Redford.
“Saturday Night Live” creator/producer Lorne Michaels also made the list, along with former NBA standout Michael Jordan.
Scully was informed of his selection in a telephone call from White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.
“Oh my gosh, no. Are you sure?” Scully said. “I’m just an old baseball announcer.”
Earnest told Scully “you’ve had a remarkable impact on the lives of generations of sports fans in this country and you have brought a decency and a professionalism to this job that hasn’t just captured the attention of generations of Americans, it’s captured the attention of the president of the United States.”
Scully replied, “I’m rather overwhelmed and humbled.”
—City News Service