Former NFL player Steve Gleason has received the Congressional Gold Medal for his work as an advocate for people with Lou Gehrig’s disease.
It is the highest civilian honor bestowed by Congress and was presented to the former safety on Capitol Hill in Washington DC yesterday for his work with other sufferers of the condition, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or motor neurone disease (MND).
Gleason, who spent seven years at the New Orleans Saints, is one of fewer than 200 people who have received the gold medal.
The 42-year-old is the first NFL player to receive the award.
He joins a list of medal winners that includes Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the Wright Brothers, Charles Lindbergh, Thomas Edison, Dr Jonas Salk and astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, who took Apollo 11 to the Moon.
In January 2011, he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, a struggle he documented in the 2016 film titled ‘Gleason’.
Former NFL star Stephen Gleason (center) who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, is awarded the Congressional Gold Medal on Capitol Hill in Washington DC
Stephen Gleason speaking through an Independence Drive system and voice bank, which he helped develop with Microsoft
Saints quarterback Drew Brees congratulates Steve Gleason and his wife Michel Gleason, during the Congressional leadership and other members of Congress at a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony
He played seven seasons in the NFL – all with New Orleans. Gleason and his wife, Michel, continue to live in the city where he’s frequently seen at sporting events, fundraisers, Saints’ practices and other events.
Gleason, who no longer can speak on his own, said through a computer-generated voice after he received the award: ‘This award represents the people of the United States of America and is a sublime honor for me.’
‘It represents some joy, some encouragement and some triumphs for the tens of thousands of families living with ALS and others living with disabilities or experiencing anguish, tragedy or adversity.’
Gleason thanked his family for their support since his diagnosis, noting to his wife, Michel: ‘This is not the life we imagined and it hasn’t been easy.’
He also said it’s his children – son Rivers and daughter Gray – who ‘give me purpose’.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi opened the ceremony and paid tribute to Gleason’s ‘heroism’.
A Congressional Gold Medal being presented to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) advocate and former National Football League player, Steve Gleason, in Statuary Hall on Capitol Hill, on Wednesday
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees speaking during the ceremony where his friend and former teammate, Stephen Gleason
Gleason played seven seasons in the NFL – all with New Orleans. He and his wife continue to live in the city
‘We have come to honor a true American hero…who has transformed the lives of so many people living with ALS,’ Pelosi said. ‘You bring pride to our nation.’
Saints quarterback Drew Brees and his son, Baylen; Saints owner Gayle Benson; NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell; and former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue were among those in attendance.
The 42-year-old Gleason was diagnosed with ALS in 2011. He has since spearheaded efforts through the Team Gleason foundation to develop and provide technology to help ALS patients live longer, more fulfilling lives.
Those include devices that track eye movements to help people who are paralyzed type words that can be transformed into speech.
Gleason has used the technology to communicate, post messages on social media, address lawmakers from around the world and give motivational speeches to athletes.
Congress in 2018 year approved the Gleason Act, which provided funding to help ALS patients get those devices.
Steve Gleason delivering remarks after being presented with a Congressional Gold Medal on Wednesday. He was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2011
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other members of Congress applauding Gleason during the ceremony
‘In the ALS community, he is a rock star, he gives hope,’ said US Senator Bill Cassidy, a Republican from Louisiana and a doctor who helped sponsor the legislation to honor Gleason.
‘Through his example of how he lives, he has changed life for us all. Thank you for inspiring hope even in the face of extreme adversity. Thank you for being a hero.’
Gleason played in 83 games for New Orleans between the 2000 and 2006 seasons, emerging as a special teams leader and blocking four punts.
His final block occurred against Atlanta on September 26, 2006, the night the Superdome reopened for the first time since it was heavily damaged while serving as a shelter of last resort for thousands who’d remained in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina struck nearly 13 months earlier.
The play has been memorialized by a bronze statue entitled ‘Rebirth’ on a public plaza surrounding the Superdome.
On the field, Gleason is best known for his electrifying blocked punt during the Saints’ first game in the rebuilt Superdome after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. The city was still rebuilding from the devastating hurricane when Gleason dove to block a punt in the opening minutes of the game against rival Atlanta Falcons. The play was such an important part of the team’s history and the city’s recovery that it was immortalized in a 9-foot-tall (2.7-meter-tall) bronze statue outside the stadium called ‘Rebirth’
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell join Congressional leadership and other members of Congress at the ceremony honoring Steve Gleason
Motor Neurone Disease (ALS): No known cure and half of sufferers live just three years after diagnosis
There is no cure for MND and the disease is fatal, however the disease progresses at different speeds in patients.
People with MND are expected to live two to five years after the symptoms first manifest, although 10 per cent of sufferers live at least 10 years.
The NHS describes motor neurone disease (MND) as: ‘An uncommon condition that affects the brain and nerves. It causes weakness that gets worse over time.’
The weakness is caused by the deterioration of motor neurons, upper motor neurons that travel from the brain down the spinal cord, and lower motor neurons that spread out to the face, throat and limbs.
It was first discovered in 1865 by a French neurologist, Jean-Martin Charcot, hence why MND is sometimes known as Charcot’s disease.
In the UK, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is referred to as Motor Neurone Disease, while in the US, ALS is referred to as a specific subset of MND, which is defined as a group of neurological disorders.
However, according to Oxford University Hospitals: ‘Nearly 90 per cent of patients with MND have the mixed ALS form of the disease, so that the terms MND and ALS are commonly used to mean the same thing.’
Weakness in the ankle or leg, which may manifest itself with trips or difficulty ascending stairs, and a weakness in the ability to grip things.
Slurred speech is an early symptom and may later worsen to include difficulty swallowing food.
Muscle cramps or twitches are also a symptom, as is weight loss due to leg and arm muscles growing thinner over time.
MND is difficult to diagnose in its early stages because several conditions may cause similar symptoms. There is also no one test used to ascertain its presence.
However, the disease is usually diagnosed through a process of exclusion, whereby diseases that manifest similar symptoms to ALS are excluded.
The NHS says that MND is an ‘uncommon condition’ that predominantly affects older people. However, it caveats that it can affect adults of any age.
The NHS says that, as of yet, ‘it is not yet known why’ the disease happens. The ALS Association says that MND occurs throughout the world ‘with no racial, ethnic or socioeconomic boundaries and can affect anyone’.
It says that war veterans are twice as likely to develop ALS and that men are 20 per cent more likely to get it.
Lou Gehrig was one of baseball’s preeminent stars while playing for the Yankees between 1923 and 1939. Known as ‘The Iron Horse,’ he played in 2,130 consecutive games before ALS forced him to retire. The record was broken by Cal Ripken Jr. in 1995
Lou Gehrig’s Disease
As well as being known as ALS and Charcot’s disease, MND is frequently referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Lou Gehrig was a hugely popular baseball player, who played for the New York Yankees between 1923 and 1939.
He was famous for his strength and was nicknamed ‘The Iron Horse’.
His strength, popularity and fame transcended the sport of baseball and the condition adopted the name of the sportsman.
He died two years after his diagnosis.
- New Orleans Saints - It's Their Turn For a Title
- UAlbany football alum signs with New Orleans Saints
- New Orleans Gift Baskets - Give the Gift of Soulful Flavor
- EXCLUSIVE: Trace Adkins and his actress bride are seen joyfully parading the streets of New Orleans on their wedding day as tipsy officiant Blake Shelton waves to onlookers while walking in the procession
- NCIS New Orleans Bad Apple cast: Who is Lenny Platt?
- Innocence Project New Orleans: A Man Wrongly Imprisoned for 42 Years Is Forced to Trade the Truth for His Freedom
- New Orleans, the City That Rose From the Muck
- Moving to New Orleans? Real Estate Tips to Make the Right Choice
- Gas Lanterns of New Orleans - Timeless Architectural Decor For Any Home
- Buy in the Big Easy - Getting Started in New Orleans Real Estate