Billie Jean King

Before 2013 begins, catch up on the best of 2012. From now until the New Year, we will be re-posting some of The New Republic’s most thought-provoking pieces of the year.

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Last week, the White House released a list of recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor that the United States government can afford a civilian. Among the 16 awardees are truly great figures: breast cancer philanthropist Nancy Goodman Brinker, theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, and Sidney Poitier, the first African-American to win an Academy Award for Best Actor.

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