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

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.

“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.

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Former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason
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Former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason
Steve Gleason arrives at the screening of "Gleason" during South By Southwest at the Paramount Theatre on Friday, March 11, 2016, in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Rich Fury/Invision/AP)
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR CHASE SAPPHIRE PREFERRED - Steve Gleason, wife Michel and Eric Johnson at “Gleason” premiere party at Chase Sapphire on Main during the 2016 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, Jan. 23, 2016. (Photo by Jack Dempsey/Invision for Chase Sapphire Preferred/AP Images)
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR CHASE SAPPHIRE PREFERRED - New Orleans Saint’s Quarterback Drew Brees and Steve Gleason at “Gleason” premiere party at Chase Sapphire on Main during the 2016 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, Jan. 23, 2016. (Photo by Jack Dempsey/Invision for Chase Sapphire Preferred/AP Images)
In this Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, photo, former New Orleans Saints NFL football player Steve Gleason and his wife, Michel, pause as their 4-year-old son, Rivers, climbs onto his father's lap during an interview in their home in New Orleans. “GLEASON,” a feature-length documentary that gives an unfiltered look at his life with ALS premieres at the Sundance Film Festival on Saturday. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)
In this Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, photo, former New Orleans Saints NFL football player Steve Gleason watches as his four-year-old son, Rivers, plays on his father's tablet during an interview in their home in New Orleans. “GLEASON,” a feature-length documentary that gives an unfiltered look at his life with ALS premieres at the Sundance Film Festival on Saturday. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)
Former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason is given the PFWA's George Halas Award before an NFL football game between the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
In this photo taken Oct. 27, 2013, former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason, who suffers from ALS, is seen before an NFL football game between the New Orleans Saints and the Buffalo Bills in New Orleans. Gleason is a guest to watch President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Capitol Hill Tuesday. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)
Former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason is given the PFWA's George Halas Award before an NFL football game between the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
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“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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