Oprah, Ernie Banks Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom - NBC Chicago

Oprah, Ernie Banks Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom



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    President Barack Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom Wednesday and among the recipients were Chicago's Oprah Winfrey and famed Chicago Cubs shortstop Ernie Banks.

    Winfrey and Banks, aka Mr. Cub, were among 16 people to receive the award, considered the nation’s highest civilian honor.

    This year's event was "just a little more special," the President said, because it marked the 50th Anniversary of President John F. Kennedy establishing the award.

    Since the first inaugural class of 31 recipients, more than 500 individuals have been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

    Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

    Banks was the first recipient honored by Obama at the event Wednesday.

    "That's Mr. Cub," Obama said. "The man who came up through the negro leagues, making $7 a day, and became the first black player to suit up for the Cubs and one of the greatest hitters of all time."

    Banks, ranked among baseball's best and one of Chicago's favorites, was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977.

    “He is just a wonderful man and a great icon of my home town," Obama said.

    But Obama didn't pass up on the opportunity to remind the crowd of his devotion to the Chicago White Sox. He noted Banks' faith that the Cubs would one day go all the way is "serious belief" and "something that even a White Sox fan like me can respect."

    Winfrey was also honored at the ceremony.

    "In more than 4,500 episodes of her show, the message was always 'you can,'" Obama said. "You can do, and you can be, and you can grow, and it can be better-- and she was living proof."

    Winfrey signed off from her iconic, Chicago-based syndicated talk show in May 2011 after 25 years. She left to dedicate time to her Oprah Winfrey Network, which recently reported a profit.

    The President noted that he counts himself and First Lady Michelle Obama among "her many devoted fans."

    Other recipients included in this year’s ceremony were Gloria Steinem, Bill Clinton, Ben Bradlee, Dan Inouye, Arturo Sandoval, and Loretta Lynn.