WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) – A New Orleans Saints legend received the highest honor lawmakers in Washington can bestow upon a citizen: the Congressional Gold Medal.
Steve Gleason is the first NFL player to receive the award as rare as the disease it recognized him for Wednesday.
“I don’t see my story as a football story or even an ALS story but rather a human story,” Gleason said. “I had to share my weaknesses to survive and succeed.”
Gleason was diagnosed with ALS in 2011. Since then, his nonprofit has donated nearly $10 million to thousands of people living with the disease. He has also worked with members of Congress to ensure patients have speech generating devices and wheelchairs like his.
“As Steve has weakened, he makes a greater difference that most of the strong and powerful ever will,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-LA.
Gleason joins the ranks of George Washington, Mother Theresa and Rosa Parks, who Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-LA, quoted to sum up Gleason’s legacy.
“Each person must live their life as a model to others,” Richmond said.
One side of the medal honors Gleason’s NFL career in Louisiana.
“I can’t think of anyone that deserves the Congressional Gold Medal more than Steve,” said House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-LA.
The other side honors Gleason’s native state of Washington, where those like Sen. Patty Murray, D-WA, still claim him.
“He is an inspiration to all of us,” Murray said.
New Orleans Saints Quarterback Drew Brees, his teammate, and friend is no exception, telling the crowd Gleason’s motto, “No White Flags” will live on for years to come.
“It’s not a matter of if we find a cure for ALS but when we find a cure for ALS,” Brees said.