Steve Gleason received the Congressional Gold Medal on Wednesday. Gleason played in the National Football League as a safety for the New Orleans Saints until he retired in 2008. He was then diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in 2011 and has since become an outspoken advocate for others suffering from the disease.
The Congressional Gold Medal, along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom are the highest civilian awards that can be bestowed in the United States. The only difference between the two is who awards the medal, Congress or the President.
As CNN reported, “In receiving the award, Gleason joins previous athletes who’ve been honored, including baseball Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente and Jackie Robinson; boxer Joe Louis; track star Jesse Owens; and golfers Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.” He is the first NFL athlete to receive the distinction.
In a statement, Gleason said, “Talk about feeling undeserving! The list of past winners is filled with enlightened and powerful giants of humanity. It’s ridiculously overwhelming. I am honored and accept the Congressional Gold Medal for all the families who have been diagnosed with ALS, as well as anyone struggling to overcome life’s inevitable adversities.”
As a part of his efforts to help those suffering from ALS, he started the Team Gleason Foundation which has provided nearly $10 million in adventure, technology, equipment and care services to over 15,000 people.
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