New Orleans Saints legend Steve Gleason is receiving the Congressional Gold Medal on Wednesday, Jan. 15 in Washington, D.C. We asked photographer Ted Jackson to spend Monday, Dec. 16 with Steve and his family as they went about a normal day, capped off by attending the Saints' game against the Colts in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
By Terri Troncale, Contributing writer
In the 244 years since Congress awarded George Washington the first Congressional Gold Medal, a handful of individual athletes have received the honor: Baseball Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente and Jackie Robinson, boxing champ Joe Louis, Olympic track star Jesse Owens, golf legends Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.
This week, former New Orleans Saints special teams ace Steve Gleason will be added to that list.
Gleason, who has done groundbreaking work to support people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis since he was diagnosed with ALS in 2011, will receive the medal during a ceremony Wednesday, Jan. 15, in Washington.
After Congress confirmed his nomination for the medal in December 2018, Gleason put the moment in perspective.
"Talk about feeling undeserving! The list of past winners is filled with enlightened and powerful giants of humanity. It's ridiculously overwhelming," he said in a written statement. "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."
Gleason, who spent seven years on the Saints, is one of fewer than 200 people who have received the gold medal, according to a news release about the award ceremony. He joins a list of medal winners that includes Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the Wright Brothers, Charles Lindbergh, Thomas Edison, Dr. Jonas Salk and astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, who took Apollo 11 to the moon. Those are some of the "giants of humanity" Gleason alluded to when the legislation honoring him passed in 2018.
Congress recognized his own contributions to humanity. The Stephen Michael Gleason Congressional Gold Medal Act honors his work through his 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."
Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy filed the original legislation for the medal, which is Congress' highest honor for civilians. "Steve Gleason has shown tremendous courage and resolve in the face of ALS. He has remained positive in the face of extreme adversity, inspiring all who hear his story," the senator said in a news release about the award ceremony.
U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, who represents Louisiana's 1st Congressional District, also praised the way Gleason has dealt with ALS.
"Steve Gleason is a true Louisiana hero, not only for his time as a New Orleans Saint, but even more through the bravery and courage he has displayed for people with disabilities all across the country throughout his battle with ALS," Scalise said in a written statement. "This recognition is a true testament to how powerful a mark Steve Gleason has made in our community and across the country. His spirit and determination serve as an inspiration to us all, and I can think of no better way to honor him for his strength and courage."