JANUARY 15, 2020

Former NFL player Steve Gleason received the Congressional Gold Medal in a Capitol Hill ceremony hosted by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other congressional leaders and attended by honored guests on January 15. Steve Gleason’s Congressional Gold Medal is in recognition of his incredible achievements, inspiring many on the football field and now helping those living with ALS and their families live productively and purposefully.  

New Orleans Saints Quarterback, Drew Brees, and House and Senate leaders spoke about Mr. Gleason’s fight against ALS and his advocacy for those suffering from the disease. Many congressional leaders cited Mr. Gleason’s football career with the New Orleans Saints and his legacy energizing the city after Hurricane Katrina.  

This medal is the highest civilian honor Congress bestows. Steve is the first former NFL Player to receive this historic honor, the 160th to receive the medal and the 163rd recipient in the history of the United States to be honored.

Steve’s Gleason Congressional Gold Medal, cast in gold, features Steve with his #37 New Orleans Saints jersey with his left fist extended in the air on the front. The reverse side shows an image of the Pacific Northwest, with a river running through evergreen trees and a mountain peak in the distance, the words “Keep exploring” inscribed across the bottom. 

Steve Gleason’s Acceptance Speech:

Hi there everyone.

Thank you Speaker Pelosi, Leaders McConnell, Schumer, and MacCarthy, Senators Cassidy and Murray, Representatives Richmond and Scalise, and all members of Congress

Also,  thank you for coming to DC, and speaking today Drew.

Just so everyone knows, today is Drew’s birthday. So, Drew, let me wish you a very Capitol,  Happy birthday brother.

This award, from the elected officials who represent the people of the United States of America, is a sublime honor for me. But, I feel that, more importantly, I feel that this honor represents some joy, encouragement, and even triumph, for the tens of thousands of extraordinary families currently enduring life with ALS, the millions of extraordinary people in this country living with disabilities or other illness, and more broadly, all of you ordinary humans, who experience adversity, tragedy, or anguish.

No one is immune from anguish, tragedy, or adversity. Not even elected officials, NFL players, or even the most holy Saints

I suppose I don’t see my story is a football story, or even an ALS story, but rather, a human, story.

The truth is that we all experience pain in our lives. But, I  believe that the problems we face, are our opportunity, and define our purpose.

I believe that adversity is our opportunity, because we will all face pain and tragedy. But, it’s clear to me that beyond the human capacity of imagination, our greatest strength, as a species, has been, our ability to bravely share our weaknesses and vulnerabilities with each other.

Doing that, we’re able to understand the issue and collaborate with each other, to solve problems, and overcome any obstacle.

While sharing one’s weaknesses may not be common practice for people, especially for politicians in an election year, wink wink..

Sharing my weaknesses was entirely critical, for me to play eight years in the NFL, and it has been unquestionably critical to my survival and purpose for the past nine years, living with a disease as dreadful as ALS. I am grateful to the, literally thousands of people who have directly uplifted me, both emotionally and physically in my 42 years. Most importantly, I’m grateful to my parents, for instilling in me many of the values I’ve used to be successful.  And, of course, my wife Michel. This is not the life we imagined, and it hasn’t been easy, but through communication and compassion, we’re living an awesome life.

In addition to understanding that,  I had to share my weaknesses, to survive and succeed, I’m fortunate to have a motivation and a reason to live. Our son Rivers, and our daughter, Gray. They give me purpose, the purpose of a lifetime.

Some of you may disagree, but I believe there has been no greater time in history, to be a human. At the same time, I don’t think anyone here, or anyone watching will disagree that, we as a country, and more appropriately, we as a global species, face enormous challenges in the coming decades of the 21st century. Challenges like exploring and colonizing other planets, or thoughtfully solving climate change, or positively harnessing, the seemingly miraculous power of artificial intelligence, so people’s disabilities are turned into super abilities.

These challenges provide us with an exponential opportunity, as Americans, and, as humans.

Because if we can share our weaknesses with each other, and compassionately collaborate to solve problems, our human potential is boundless. If we can work to understand and solve each other’s problems, and each other’s pain, compassionately,  then, truly, all things are possible.

Thank you again, to the people of the United States of America, a nation I’m so proud to live in, for this unbelievable honor.


Photos courtesy of the New Orleans Saints