In the storied 52-year history of the New Orleans Saints franchise, there might not be a more beloved player that has reached heroic and even iconic status, in the way that former free safety and special teams ace Steve Gleason has.
After the news that broke yesterday which revealed that the 41-year old Spokane, Washington native and adopted New Orleanian was chosen to be the recipient of the first-ever Congressional Gold Medal awarded to an NFL player, as well as the first person from the city of New Orleans to win it, that status increased even further.
Gleason was with the Saints franchise from 2000 to 2006 and played in both the Jim Haslett and Sean Payton (his last season) coaching eras. He became a cultural icon in New Orleans when his blocked punt spurred on a Saints victory in the first game back in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina; a 23-3 victory over the hated arch-rival Atlanta Falcons on ESPN Monday Night Football.
Diagnosed with ALS — defined medically as “a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord” — back in 2011, Gleason went on to create what became known as the Team Gleason Foundation, whose stated mission is to look for different ways to develop the necessary technology that’s needed to allow ALS patients to live a much longer life.
Since that time, in spite of his notable physical limitations from the effects of the disease’s onset, Gleason has persevered and has managed to raise millions for fellow ALS patients worldwide, while in his spare time he’s become one of the franchise’s biggest supporters on a handful of social media platforms.
After today’s announcement, it seems Gleason has once again come through for the city and the entire New Orleans community and surrounding region, and in a really big way: by being selected to receive the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal.
As first reported by NFL.com, Gleason was chosen to receive the highest honor possible for a citizen after the House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill Thursday to officially honor him for his humanitarian efforts in the fight against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, otherwise known as ALS.
New Orleans Saints legend Steve Gleason (@TeamGleason) will receive the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor Congress can bestow.
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) December 20, 2018
In a rare show of bipartisanship, U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., Patty Murray, D-Wash., John Kennedy, R-La., Maria Cantwell, D. Wash., and U.S. Reps. Cedric Richmond, D. La., Steve Scalise, R-La., Ralph Abraham, R. La., and Mike Johnson, R-La., all joined together late Tuesday night at Capitol Hill in a coordinated effort to garner the support needed (290 co-sponsors is the required number) in the House for the bill to merit consideration.
“Through his work to help others who are disabled, Steve Gleason has changed so many lives for the better,” Cassidy said, via Reuters. “As more members of Congress heard about Steve’s work, the support for this bill only grew. Steve is a hero to many, and I’m proud we got this done to honor a great American.”
In a statement via his Twitter account, Republican House Representative Steve Scalise said that “Steve Gleason inspired all of us as a New Orleans Saint and continues to inspire us with his bravery and service to others battling ALS. Steve is a leading voice in the fight against ALS, and Congress has awarded him a Congressional Gold Medal to honor this service”.
Steve Gleason inspired all of us as a New Orleans Saint and continues to inspire us with his bravery and service to others battling ALS. Steve is a leading voice in the fight against ALS, and Congress has awarded him a Congressional Gold Medal to honor this service.
— Rep. Steve Scalise (@SteveScalise) December 20, 2018
Make no mistake about it: whether you’re a Saints fan or just someone who enjoys all things about New Orleans and its unique aspects upon our society and culture, this award is not only big personally for Gleason, but for the entire community.
Just how big, you ask?
Consider this: among the previous recipients of the award in years past, some of the names you might have heard once or twice before include Bob Hope, Walt Disney, Sir Winston Churchill, John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Coretta Scott King.
And now you can add the name Stephen Michael Gleason to that list.
The bill was passed unanimously in the Senate back in June, and now it will be sent to President Trump’s desk, where it is expected to be signed into law. Cassidy said that there will be a formal (and likely much grander) ceremony held in Washington D.C. next year to properly honor Gleason.
As Saints fans are well aware, in 2012 the Saints paid to have a bronze statue erected in front of the Superdome Plaza level entrance to commemorate his iconic blocked punt in that first game at the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina.
Just finished dedicating the 13 ft bronze Rebirth statue with Steve Gleason outside at Superdome. Special day for Nola pic.twitter.com/npIXxZpm
— Drew Brees (@drewbrees) July 27, 2012
That statute, of course, remains to this day, as a symbol of the “Rebirth of New Orleans.”
But it also symbolizes the unforgettable night (September 25, 2006) that the former 5-foot-11 inch tall, 212 pound, free safety made the play that won the first game back in New Orleans, and earned the victory for a city and its people that had been literally “left for dead” (and I know, because I was one of them).
That was the night that Steve Gleason came up big for NOLA — and today as the first-ever NFL player and first-time New Orleans citizen to win the award, he’s managed to do it once again.