Steve Gleason, the former Washington State University star who became a symbol for a city and people battling a debilitating disease, has been nominated for the highest civilian honor awarded by Congress.
Gleason, who has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), was nominated by Washington and Louisiana lawmakers for his work as an ALS advocate.
Legislation to award the former New Orleans Saints player the Congressional Gold Medal was submitted by U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, a Republican from Louisiana and a doctor who helped sponsor the legislation, and Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington.
“Steve Gleason was a hero for Saints fans and now he is a hero for all Americans as he finds hope and meaning in overcoming disability and creating greater opportunity for others who are disabled,” Cassidy said.
Murray praised Gleason for making “his biggest impact as a tireless advocate in the health world” and changing “countless lives for the better.”
Gleason, 41, was diagnosed with ALS in 2011 and has led effort through the Team Gleason foundation to develop and provide technology to help ALS patients live longer and 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.
The Gleason Act, approved by Congress earlier this year, provides funds to help ALS patients get those devices.
The bill must be passed by the House and Senate and signed into law by the president before the medal can be awarded.
Gleason grew up in Spokane, attended Gonzaga Prep, and played football and baseball at Washington State University. He played on the Cougars' 1997 Rose Bowl team. He signed with the Indianapolis Colts as a free agent in 2000 and was drafted by Birmingham in the 2001 XFL Draft. He played for the New Orleans Saints from 2000-2006.
A statue outside the New Orleans Superdome depicts Gleason blocking a punt against Atlanta in 2006. The statue is called "Rebirth," because it came early in the first game the Saints played in nearly two years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city. The team went on to play in the NFC Championship for the first time in franchise history later that season. Four years later, the Saints won Super Bowl 44. Gleason was no longer on the team when it won the title, but the Saints awarded him a ring.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.