It took some doing – some pleading, actually – but Steve Gleason will be a little less mobile this weekend.
Still, though the former New Orleans Saint physically will be absent from the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame body that he officially is slated to join Saturday night in Natchitoches, La., he’ll be present in spirit, as this year’s recipient of the Dave Dixon Sports Leadership Award.
“He had a sports camp this week because just when you think he can’t do enough, with two foundations that he has and being a husband and father and us taking him all over the United States, he put on a life skills camp,” Blair Casey, associate director of Team Gleason, said with a laugh. “He made a decision to take it easy because he had been sick. He’s been pretty exhausted, we’ve been trying to tell him to calm down and he’s finally starting to listen a little bit.”
Of course, Gleason’s refusal to give in – No White Flags – is one of the reasons he is the recipient of the Dixon Award, as well as aligned to be honored with the Congressional Gold Medal.
Gleason was diagnosed with ALS in 2011. Soon after, he established Team Gleason, which helps provide individuals with neuromuscular diseases or injuries with leading-edge technology, equipment and services, and raises global awareness about ALS to find solutions and an end to the disease.
The Dixon Award annually is presented to an individual who has played a decisive role as a sports leader or administrator benefiting Louisiana and/or bringing credit to the state on the national or international level. Past winners include Paul Hoolahan, executive director of the Allstate Sugar Bowl, and James Andrews, noted orthopedist who has made significant contributions to sports medicine.
Other members of this year’s Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame class include former NFL receivers Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokley, former LSU and 18-year major league pitcher Russ Springer, Grambling alum and former NBA champion Larry Wright, coaches Lewis Cook (high school football) and Jerry Simmons (tennis at Lousiana-Lafayette and LSU), the late Paul Candies (a member of the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame), Northwestern State graduate and noted Louisiana broadcaster Lyn Rollins, and award-winning Lake Charles sportswriter Scooter Hobbs (Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism).
Gleason was a Saint from 2000-06 and provided one of the signature plays in franchise history – a punt block that led to a touchdown against the Falcons on Sept. 25, 2006, when the Mercedes-Benz Superdome re-opened after Hurricane Katrina.
Though a native of Spokane, Wash., Gleason immediately took to New Orleans. He has endeared himself even more since the ALS diagnosis through his tireless advocacy.
“Seeing him interact with the city, the fans – he was just one of them,” Casey said. “He was somebody that was a New Orleanian at that point. And then being diagnosed with ALS, he didn’t want to do anything for himself. He wanted to help others going through this.
“Being around him and helping run his foundation, we look at it sometimes and we forget – but people remind us all the time – that it’s not always about the ALS. It’s about his approach to life, and how facing adversity, which everybody does, that’s what people are attracted to.
“That’s what his infectious personality is all about. He doesn’t even have to say things, it’s just how he carries himself that makes people want to be better. And you can certainly see it in the city of New Orleans. Just his approach to everyday life affects people. That’s something that’s very powerful.”
Gleason also soon may receive word regarding the status of the Congressional Gold Medal.
Legislation has been introduced to present him with the award, and Casey said the measure has been approved by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy. (R-LA), Patty Murray (D-WA), and John Kennedy (R-LA), and U.S. Representatives Cedric Richmond (D-LA), Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Cathy McMorris Rogers (R-WA) introduced the legislation that seeks to honor Gleason’s work in providing 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.
“We have a website called honorgleason.com,” Casey said. “So if you go to honorgleason.com, you can see who your representatives are and you can put in your address and it’ll tell you who it is. It’ll even auto-draft the letter for you or if you want to actually write your letter yourself, you have access to do that.”