Congress votes to award Saints legend Steve Gleason with Congressional Gold Medal

The House of Representatives voted to award former Saints legend Steve Gleason, who has helped raise millions of dollars for ALS research, the Congressional Gold Medal on Thursday. (Tyler Kaufman/Getty Images)
The House of Representatives voted to award former Saints legend Steve Gleason, who has helped raise millions of dollars for ALS research, the Congressional Gold Medal on Thursday. (Tyler Kaufman/Getty Images)

New Orleans Saints legend Steve Gleason will make history next year when he becomes the first NFL player in history to be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal — the highest possible honor Congress can award a civilian.

The House of Representatives passed legislation on Thursday awarding Gleason — a former defensive back and special teams standout for the Saints — the medal, following the Senate’s approval in June. Now Gleason must wait only for President Donald Trump to sign the legislation to make it official, which is expected to happen in 2019.

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“Through his work to help others who are disabled, Steve Gleason has changed so many lives for the better,” Sen. Bill Cassidy, who helped introduce the bill, said in a statement. “As more members of Congress heard about Steve’s work, the support for this bill only grew. Steve is a hero to many and I’m proud we got this done to honor a great American.”

Gleason played for the Saints from 2000-2006, and is perhaps best known on the field for blocking an Atlanta Falcons kick in the first game back in the Superdome in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

He was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS, in 2011. He helped found the Gleason Initiative Foundation, which has raised millions of dollars for those living with the disease. He also helped kickstart the “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” in 2014 — a viral movement that raised global awareness and more than $100 million to help fight ALS.

“It is a true honor to witness Steve Gleason become the first New Orleanian and former NFL Legend to receive the Congressional Gold Medal,” Saints owner Gayle Benson said in a release. “Along with his wife, Michel, and everyone at Team Gleason, they have unfailingly confronted ALS with a courageous and unwavering determination. Their tireless work to provide crucial assistance and the latest in technology and services has improved countless people’s quality of living. Steve is leaving a truly indelible mark in American history and we are honored to call him a true New Orleans Saint.”

Gleason will join a select group of former athletes to earn the award, joining Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Jackie Robinson and the 1980 U.S. Summer Olympic Team. Other notable honorees include Orville and Wilbur Wright, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, the Little Rock Nine, and Pope John Paul II, among others.

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