WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 12, 2018) – Today, Eastern Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05) joined U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), Patty Murray (D-WA), John Kennedy (R-LA), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and U.S. Representatives Cedric Richmond (D-LA), and Steve Scalise (R-LA) in introducing bipartisan, bicameral legislation in the Senate (S. 2652) and House to award Washington state native, ALS champion, and former New Orleans Saints star Steve Gleason with the Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of his work through the Gleason Initiative Foundation to provide individuals with neuromuscular diseases or injuries with the assistance they need to thrive, his advocacy for federal legislation ensuring people living with diseases such as ALS have access to speech generating devices, and his leadership in bringing together the single largest coordinated and collaborative ALS research project in the world.
“Steve, a Spokane native, is a hero to me and to so many of us in Eastern Washington,” said McMorris Rodgers. “As a tireless advocate for those with ALS and other degenerative diseases, 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. He has chosen to fight back against ALS, and to undergo this very personal battle in the public eye to bring awareness to this disease and the people who it impacts on a daily basis. That’s why I’m proud to join in this effort to recognize Steve with the Congressional Gold Medal.”
“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,” said Dr. Cassidy.
“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,” said Sen. Murray. “Together with his wife, mother, and everyone at their foundation, Steve has changed countless lives for the better and this legislation symbolizes the strong support Steve and Team Gleason have in the United States Congress.”
“Steve Gleason is not just a beacon of hope in New Orleans, but across the country,” said Rep. Richmond. “His work on the field lifted the hearts of Saints fans, but his work off the field is actually improving lives. Steve is doing remarkable work and is truly an inspiration. Awarding him a Congressional Gold Medal would be the best way to honor him.”
“Steve Gleason is a national hero, and I’m proud to help introduce this legislation to award him the Congressional Gold Medal. He was an outstanding athlete. Saints fans will always remember his seven spectacular seasons with the team,” said Sen. Kennedy. “But it has been Steve’s work off the field that has truly distinguished him. Since his diagnosis, Steve has done an incalculable amount of work to spread awareness for ALS. He has been a beacon of hope and has been the definition of courage for all touched by this disease. I can think of no better way to honor him.”
“Just like the New Orleans Saints were an inspiration to the city when they returned to the Dome after Hurricane Katrina, Steve Gleason has been a hero in his own right for the city of New Orleans,” said Whip Scalise. “His spirit and determination serve as an inspiration to us all.”
“We strongly support the nomination of Steve Gleason for a Congressional Gold Medal,” said ALS Association President and CEO Calaneet Balas. “Steve’s efforts to successfully secure access to speech-generating devices was critical to all those who have ALS. Speech-generating devices aren’t a luxury for people with diseases like ALS – they’re a lifeline. These devices allow people living with ALS to communicate with healthcare professionals, loved ones, and their communities. We encourage Congress to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Steve Gleason – he is a national hero.”
“Steve Gleason is so deserving of this honor. He has inspired and challenged all of us to push the boundaries of technology to empower people with disabilities, even as he has waged his own battle against ALS,” said Microsoft President Brad Smith. “Steve is a huge reason we’ve pursued eye control solutions for Windows and wheelchairs, giving people with limited speech and movement independence through technology.”
“On behalf of the New Orleans Saints we extend our most sincere support for awarding Steve Gleason with the Congressional Gold Medal,” said Saints Owner Gayle Benson. “Along with his wife, Michel, and everyone at Team Gleason, they are courageously confronting ALS with an unwavering determination, unselfishly providing countless afflicted people with the latest in technology and services. Steve is leaving a truly indelible mark in American history.”
The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian honor Congress can bestow. Before a medal is awarded, the legislation must be passed by the House and Senate and signed into law by the president.
Previous recipients of the Congressional Gold Medal include Orville and Wilbur Wright, Thomas Edison, Jonas Salk, Irving Berlin, Robert Frost, Bob Hope, Walt Disney, Roberto Clemente, Sir Winston Churchill, John Wayne, the 1980 U.S. Summer Olympic Team, Joe Louis, Jesse Owens, Ruth and Billy Graham, Frank Sinatra, Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer, and Jack Nicklaus.
The legislation states in part:
The Congress finds the following:
(1) Stephen “Steve” Gleason was born March 19, 1977, in Spokane, Washington to Mike and Gail Gleason.
(2) Steve attended Gonzaga Preparatory School for high school where he excelled as both a football and baseball player.
(3) In 1995, Steve enrolled at Washington State University where he was a 2-sport athlete for the baseball and football teams and helped the Cougars football team advance to the 1997 Rose Bowl.
(4) In 2000, Steve signed a professional football contract with the Indianapolis Colts of the National Football League as an undrafted free agent but later joined the New Orleans Saints in November of that same season.
(5) Steve would go on to play 7 more seasons as a member of the New Orleans Saints.
(6) Steve will always be remembered for his blocked punt on September 25, 2006, against the Atlanta Falcons, the night the Louisiana Superdome reopened for the first time after Hurricane Katrina in a game the Saints would win 23 to 3.
(7) In January, 2011 Steve was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, considered a terminal neuro-muscular disease.
(8) Following his diagnosis, Steve, with the loving support of his wife, Michel, began a mission to show that patients can not only live but thrive after a diagnosis of ALS and established The Gleason Initiative Foundation also known simply as “Team Gleason”.
(9) At the time of his diagnosis, however, Steve said there will be “No White Flags”, which has become the mantra of Team Gleason.
(10) The Gleason Initiative Foundation helps provide individuals with neuromuscular diseases or injuries with leading edge technology, equipment and services, raises global awareness about ALS to find solutions and an end to the disease, and has helped hundreds of people with ALS experience life adventures they never thought possible after their diagnosis.
(11) Steve’s story and mission have been told by the NFL Network, ESPN, HBO, ABC, CBS, CNN, and many local media outlets, as well as in a 2016 documentary titled “Gleason”, which was heralded at the Sundance Film Festival and premiered across the country with Variety calling the production “an emotional powerhouse”. The documentary won several awards, including the 2016 Washington, D.C. Area Film Critics Association Award for Best Documentary.
(12) Steve was named 1 of 2 Sports Illustrated’s Inspirations of the Year in 2014, has been a keynote speaker for Microsoft and at 2 UnitedNations sponsored Social Innovation Summits, and received the 2015 George S. Halas Courage Award, given to a NFL player, coach or staff member who overcomes the most adversity to succeed.
(13) Steve helped advocate for the Steve Gleason Act of 2015 (Public Law 114–40; 129 Stat. 441), and the Steve Gleason Enduring Voices Act of 2017, H.R. 2465, 115th Congress (2017), which permanently ensures people living with diseases such ALS have access to speech generating devices regardless of their setting, whether at home or a healthcare institution.
(14) In 2014, Steve and Team Gleason hosted a global summit to bring together researchers, patients, caregivers, and all ALS stakeholders to create a plan to ultimately end ALS. That summit resulted in the single largest coordinated and collaborative ALS research project in the world, Answer ALS, which brings together nearly two dozen research institutions, 1,000 patients and 20,000,000,000,000 data points that are important to the project and that will define the unknown pathways that will lead to treatments or finally a cure.
(15) In 2015, Steve and Microsoft worked together to create a method for people who are completely paralyzed to navigate their power wheelchairs with their eyes. Today, Steve, Microsoft and all wheelchair manufacturers are working collaboratively to make it widely available to all who need this technology. In addition, Microsoft has also made eye tracking technology part of all Windows 10 products across the globe.
(16) In 2011, 10 months after his diagnosis, Steve and Michel made their most significant accomplishment, becoming parents to their son Rivers.
(17) Steve and Michel Gleason continue to fight to find a solution for ALS so they can share many years together and as parents to Rivers.