NEW ORLEANS — Federal lawmakers from Louisiana and Washington have submitted legislation to award former New Orleans Saints and Washington State football player Steve Gleason the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor awarded by Congress.
Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican and doctor who helped sponsor the legislation, seeks to honor Gleason for his work as an advocate for people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
"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," Cassidy said.
The 41-year-old Gleason, famous for blocking a punt in 2006 on the night the Superdome reopened for the first time since Hurricane Katrina, was diagnosed with ALS in 2011. He has spearheaded efforts through the Team Gleason foundation to develop and provide technology to help ALS patients live longer, more fulfilling lives. Those include devices that track eye movements to help people who are paralyzed type words that can be transformed into speech. Gleason has used the technology to communicate, post messages on social media, address lawmakers from around the world and give motivational speeches to athletes.
Congress this year approved the Gleason Act, which provided funding to help ALS patients get those devices.
The legislation submitted Thursday also is sponsored by Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.; Sen. John Kennedy, R-La.; Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.; Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La.; and Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La.
Murray praised Gleason for making "his biggest impact as a tireless advocate in the health world" and changing "countless lives for the better."
The bill must be passed by the House and Senate and signed into law by the president before the medal can be awarded.
Previous recipients include Thomas Edison, Robert Frost, Bob Hope, Walt Disney, Roberto Clemente, John Wayne, Jesse Owens, Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, Ruth and Billy Graham, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King.