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New Orleans Saints legend Steve Gleason to receive Congressional Gold Medal

Congress passes legislation to give Gleason highest civilian honor it can bestow

As Steve Gleason is awarded with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor Congress can bestow, we take a look back at the best photos of Steve through the years.

New Orleans Saints legend Steve Gleason will receive the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor Congress can bestow. He will become the first former NFL player to receive the award.

The House of Representatives on Thursday, Dec. 20 gave unanimous passage of legislation S. 2652 to award Gleason, a Washington native who played for the Saints from 2000-2006, the Gold Medal. Gleason cemented his place in Saints lore with his blocked punt vs. the Atlanta Falcons in the re-opening game of the Superdome (now Mercedes-Benz Superdome) on Sept. 25, 2006. Gleason was diagnosed with ALS in 2011 and is being honored for his work to help others with the condition.

"It is a true honor to witness Steve Gleason become the first New Orleanian and former NFL Legend to receive the Congressional Gold Medal," said Saints Owner Gayle Benson. "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."

"Through his work to help others who are disabled, Steve Gleason has changed so many lives for the better," U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said in a statement after the passage of the legislation. "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."

"The Congressional Gold Medal is reserved for those individuals who make a profound and lasting contribution to ou country – and Mr. Gleason has certainly done that," said Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.). "For those of us who've followed him from his early days in eastern Washington, to anyone just learning about his story today, we are all so fortunate that Steve brings the same fight and passion to his health care advocacy that he brought to the football field. Steve, you make Washington state so proud, and it's been my honor to play a role in helping your Congressional Gold Medal come to fruition."

"The lives of countless people have been improved because of Steve's determination, perseverance, and advocacy. Rather putting up a white flag, Steve used his own devastating diagnosis to inspire a nation and make sure people living with ALS have access to the latest speech-generating technology. It is befitting that Steve's incredible work be recognized with a Congressional Gold Medal," said Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).

"New Orleans Saints fans will always remember Steve Gleason's seven spectacular seasons with the team. But it has been Steve's work off the field that truly distinguishes him as an American hero," said Senator John Kennedy (R-La.). "Steve works tirelessly to spread awareness for ALS, all while battling this terrible disease. No one is more deserving of a Congressional Gold Medal than Steve Gleason."

"The Congressional Gold Medal is one of the highest honors for people who have dedicated themselves to improving the lives of others," said Representative Cedric Richmond (D-La.). "Steve Gleason is someone who represents this honor and will now receive this award. I am proud to have worked with my colleagues in both the House and Senate to make this happen. Steve will join in the ranks of fellow American trailblazers and who have changed the course of our history for the better. His enduring commitment to those with disabilities makes him a living legend and forever a Saint. The city of New Orleans and Saints fans alike are proud to have Steve recognized as a leader whose contributions will make a lasting effect for years to come."

"Steve, a Spokane native, is a hero to me and to so many of us in Eastern Washington," said Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.). " 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. This legislation, which is on its way to becoming law, will recognize Steve's advocacy and determination with one of our nation's highest honors, the Congressional Gold Medal."

"In Louisiana, Steve Gleason inspired all of us as a New Orleans Saint and has continued to inspire us with his bravery and service to others battling ALS. More than 5,000 people each year are diagnosed with ALS, and Steve Gleason serves as a leading voice in championing the fight against ALS. I am pleased to announce that to honor this service, Congress is awarding Steve Gleason a Congressional Gold Medal. More than 350 Members of Congress signed on to support this legislation, a sign of how powerful a mark Steve Gleason has made on this country. Thank you, Steve," said Representative Steve Scalise (R-La.).

"Steve Gleason is such an inspirational man whose work has forever changed the lives of so many people. He is certainly deserving of this tremendous honor, and I'm so proud that members of Congress from across the country recognized the incredible work he has done to help those with neuromuscular diseases and injuries," said Representative Ralph Abraham (R-La.). "I also want to thank Sen. Bill Cassidy for taking charge of this effort and seeing that Steve got this amazing recognition."

"SteveGleason has not only confronted his diagnosis with bravery and courage, but he has used his voice to help the lives of people all across the nation," said Representative Mike Johnson (R-La.). "All Americans deserve to have their voice heard, and those with severe disabilities should not be forced to live a life of silence. Steve has worked tirelessly to help provide the resources needed to ensure he, and countless others, can continue living meaningful and productive lives. It is an honor to recognize him with the Congressional Gold Medal for his unwavering resolve and outspoken advocacy on this important issue."

"Steve Gleason is an inspirational leader who has advocated on behalf of those with ALS for access to speech-generating devices. These devices provide people living with ALS who have lost their voices with the critically important means to communicate with health care professionals, loved ones, and their communities," said ALS Association President and CEO Calaneet Balas. "The ALS Association is honored to support awarding Steve for a Congressional Gold Medal. In addition to recognizing Steve, this award also elevates public awareness of the daily challenges of all those with ALS and the urgency to find treatments and a cure."

According to the release from Sen. Cassidy's office,The Stephen Michael Gleason Congressional Gold Medal Act recognizes Gleason for 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.

Previous recipients of the Congressional Gold Medal include Orville and Wilbur Wright, Thomas Edison, 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.

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