The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the nation’s highest civilian honor. It is awarded to individuals who have made significant contributions to the United States’ national interest and security, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public and private endeavors.
Since the Presidential Medal of Freedom was established in 1945 by President Harry S. Truman, more than 500 civilians have received the honor. This was Trump’s first time awarding the Medal.
He was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection, a six-time First-team All-Pro, and a three-time Second-team All-Pro.
Page was the anchor of the fearsome Vikings defensive line known as the Purple People Eaters. In 1971, he won the first of his two NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards (1973). The same season, he was the first defensive player to be named NFL Most Valuable Player. Page was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988.
Page attended the University of Minnesota Law School while playing for the Vikings and received his law degree in 1978. He worked in a Minneapolis law firm during off seasons until his 1981 retirement. In 1985, he was appointed Special Assistant Attorney General and was soon after promoted to Assistant Attorney General.
In 1992, Page was elected to an open seat as an Associate Justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court. He was the first African-American to serve on the state’s highest court. He was reelected three times in 1998 (where he received the most votes in state history), 2004, and 2010. Page retired in 2015 because of a mandatory retirement rule for justices in the month of their 70th birthday.
Page and his wife, Diane, started the Page Education Foundation in 1988. The foundation helps young people of color pursue higher education. In more than 30 years, the Page Education Foundation has raised more than $15 million and assisted more than 7,000 students.
Page campaigned for Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign and is a staunch opponent of Trump, especially on matters concerning race relations. He didn’t want any political debate over the Medal and made that known on Friday.
“What I’ve been trying to communicate, whether it’s this president or any other president, is what this represents,” Page said. “A recognition of what Diane and I tried to do with our lives in a small way and make the world a better place. When I think about it that way, it’s a pretty easy thing to be happy about and proud of.”
Page’s three children were in attendance but it was a bittersweet occasion. Diane Page died of breast cancer on Sept. 29.
Staubach, also known as Captain America, attended the U.S. Naval Academy and won the 1963 Heisman Trophy. Upon graduation, he served in the U.S. Navy including a tour in Vietnam.
He joined the Dallas Cowboys in 1969 and spent his entire career with America’s Team (1969-79). Staubach was one of the NFL best quarterbacks of the 1970s, known for his scrambling ability and making defenders miss. He led the NFL in passer rating four times (1971, 1973, 1978, 1979) and a six-time Pro Bowl selection.
The Cowboys made four Super Bowls appearances (VI, X, XII, XIII) with two victories (VI, XII) with Staubach as the starter. He also led the Cowboys to NFC Championship Game appearances in 1972 and 1973 (where they were defeated by Page’s Vikings). Staubach was named Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl VI, becoming the first of four players to win both Super Bowl MVP and the Heisman Trophy. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985.
After retirement, Staubach settled into a career in commercial real estate, much like Trump. Trump regaled the crowd on hand with a tale of how he witnessed Staubach win a golf match on the 18th hole.
According to the Commander-in-Chief, Staubach hit his ball “so deep in the weeds that you wouldn’t believe it”. Staubach, who needed a par to win, was able to knock the ball close to the hole and then sink a putt for the victory.
“I said, ‘That’s Roger Staubach’. I hope you remember that, Roger. That was quite exciting!” Trump said.
Staubach had often been mentioned as a candidate for political office. He was once asked to consider a campaign for a United States Senate seat. He even received a vote for the Vice-Presidential nomination at the 1976 Republican National Convention.
“Roger, you inspire Americans across the country to work hard, dream big, and always push on the victory,” Trump said.
Page and Staubach are the first former professional football players to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Physician/philanthropist Miriam Adelson and retiring U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) were the other living recipients. Rock musician Elvis Presley, Baseball Hall of Famer Babe Ruth and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia were honored posthumously.