In a year when bipartisan consensus has been rare, Democrats and Republicans agreed unanimously Thursday that Spokane native and former Gonzaga Prep and Washington State University football star Steve Gleason deserves the highest civilian honor bestowed by Congress.
The House of Representatives voted unanimously to give the Congressional Gold Medal to Gleason, a former National Football League player with the New Orleans Saints, for his fight against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a condition which he suffers. The Senate unanimously passed the legislation in June, and it now heads to President Donald Trump’s desk.
Gleason released a statement on Twitter on Thursday saying he felt “undeserving” of the honor, but accepted on behalf of others who are fighting the degenerative disease.
“The list of past winners is filled with enlightened and powerful giants of humanity,” Gleason wrote. “It’s ridiculously overwhelming.”
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers called Gleason a hero who has been a tireless advocate for those with ALS and other degenerative diseases. Earlier this year, Congress approved an update to a law that carries his name requiring Medicare reimbursement for eye-tracking technology that he and other ALS patients use to communicate.
“Steve has helped usher legislation through Congress to permanently provide access to important speech-generating devices for those who’ve lost their ability to communicate,” McMorris Rodgers said in a news release announcing the bill’s passage.
He’s also the subject of the award-winning documentary “Gleason,” which shows the family’s journey with his condition. An annual music festival in Spokane, Gleason Fest, also raises money for ALS awareness.
The bill started in the Senate, where it was jointly sponsored by Washington Democrats Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and Louisiana Republicans Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy.
Murray said Gleason brings the same fight and passion to patient advocacy that he brought to the football field.
“The Congressional Gold Medal is reserved for those individuals who make a profound and lasting contribution to our country, and Mr. Gleason has certainly done that,” Murray said in a news release.
Gleason is the first player from the NFL to receive the Congressional Gold Medal. Other recipients include the Wright brothers, Thomas Edison, Bob Hope, Walt Disney, Roberto Clemente, Winston Churchill, Joe Louis, Jesse Owens, Mother Theresa, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King.
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