METAIRIE, La. -- Steve Gleason will become the first NFL player and just the eighth individual athlete ever to receive a Congressional Gold Medal, which is considered the highest honor that Congress can award to a civilian.
Gleason, a former special-teams standout with the New Orleans Saints, has become a renowned advocate for those with ALS and other neuromuscular disorders since he was diagnosed himself with the debilitating disease, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, in 2011.
Gleason issued a statement Thursday, saying "Today, I learned that Congress has confirmed my nomination for the Congressional Gold Medal. Talk about feeling undeserving! The list of past winners is filled with enlightened and powerful giants of humanity. It's ridiculously overwhelming.
"I'm grateful to Michel, our families, my caretakers, our Team Gleason staff, the researchers of Answer ALS, and the cities of Spokane and New Orleans, for gracefully shining the light to lead me.
"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."
My statement on the Congressional Gold Medal.— Steve Gleason (@TeamGleason) December 21, 2018
The House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation Thursday to award the Gold Medal to Gleason after the Senate also unanimously endorsed the award in June. The final step is for President Donald Trump to sign the legislation.
"It is a true honor to witness Steve Gleason become the first New Orleanian and former NFL Legend to receive the Congressional Gold Medal," Saints owner Gayle Benson said in a statement. "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," Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy said in a statement. "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 our country -- and Mr. Gleason has certainly done that," Patty Murray, a senator from Gleason's home state of Washington, said in a statement. "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."
Gleason's most spectacular moment on the football field came when he blocked a punt against the Atlanta Falcons to spark a Saints victory on the night the Superdome reopened following Hurricane Katrina.
But he has since become internationally recognized for his efforts as a crusader for those with ALS. The Steve Gleason Act was signed into law by former President Barack Obama in 2015 to make critical technology available to patients through Medicare and Medicaid.
Previous athletes to be honored with a Congressional Gold Medal are Roberto Clemente, Joe Louis, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.