Steve Gleason, the Spokane native who starred for the Washington State University Cougars and played football for the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, had his name submitted for a Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor awarded by Congress.
Federal lawmakers from Washington and Louisana seek to honor Gleason for work as an advocate for people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, Republicans from Louisiana, helped sponsor the legislation along with Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, Democrats from Washington.
“Few people make Washington state as proud as Steve Gleason, a Spokane native and WSU standout who not only excelled on the field, but who has gone on to make his biggest impact as a tireless advocate in the health world,” Murry said.
Cassidy said 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.”
The 41-year-old Gleason, famous for blocking a punt in 2006 on the night the Superdome reopened for the first time since Hurricane Katrina, was diagnosed with ALS in 2011. He has 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 this year approved the Gleason Act, which provided funding to help ALS patients get those devices.
Also sponsoring the legislation in the House is Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.; Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La.; and Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La.
The bill must be passed by the House and Senate and signed into law by the president before the medal can be awarded.
Previous recipients include Thomas Edison, Robert Frost, Bob Hope, Walt Disney, Roberto Clemente, John Wayne, Jesse Owens, Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, Ruth and Billy Graham, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King.