To many, the name Steve Gleason probably doesn’t sound familiar. After all, Gleason was not a star quarterback nor did he have a Hall of Fame career. No, Steve Gleason is not like many of football’s mainstream heroes today. The 36-year-old is no longer able to play football. His career is not a collection of highlight reel plays. You won’t listen to him during telecasts of football games as an announcer. And that’s what makes Steve Gleason’s story so great. In a week where prima donna’s like Jadeveon Clowney dominated the news, it is likely few caught ESPN’s special on Gleason. If you didn’t catch their E:60 piece, please watch it here.
Travel to New Orleans and everyone knows who Steve Gleason is.
It’s September 25, 2006. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the storm that left the city of New Orleans in ruins, Gleason became famous. Football hadn’t been played in the Superdome in nearly 21 months. It was early in the first quarter and the Atlanta Falcons were set to punt. Gleason broke up the middle, blocked the punt, and with arms spread out, celebrated as it was recovered for a touchdown. The moment meant so much to the city of New Orleans; they now have a statue named “Rebirth” capturing that moment that stands outside the Superdome.
Seven years removed from his historic play, Steve Gleason may not be recognizable. Battling ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Gleason’s once powerful football frame has been reduced to a wheelchair. Atrophy has left him a shell of his former self. He communicates through a computer voice that transforms movements of his eyes into words. To see it is both humbling and shocking. A hero that means so much to the city of New Orleans and the Saints organization now a prisoner in his own body.
Perhaps that’s what makes seeing Gleason so damn difficult. There is something about seeing an athlete, especially one who is responsible for such an iconic moment, reduced to a wheelchair and computer voice.
Long before ESPN’s piece aired, sports writer Peter King featured him in his famous Monday Morning Quarterback piece. Gleason filled in for an absent King and shared his story. Much like the ESPN piece, you are left fighting back tears and you see the side of a Steve Gleason that is truly heroic. Removed from his long blonde hair hanging out of his Saints helmet, Gleason is human. Vulernable. Mortal. And he’s ok that you see that.
Gleason’s body may be human, but his mind and his spirit aren’t. It may surprise you to know that after his diagnosis, he and wife Michel, who had always wanted a child, had their son Rivers. Steve also went on to finish his MBA. As a family they traveled to Alaska. Steve Gleason continued to live. And as he continues to live he continues to fight. Not just for himself, not just for his family, but for all those with ALS.
Team Gleason was started to help those diagnosed with ALS. To inspire and give hope. They send the sick on adventures that as Gleason puts it are “life-affirming events.” Beyond the adventures to Machu Picchu, the Galapagos, and Easter Island, Team Gleason also works to make the expensive technology to care for those with ALS more affordable. In his own words Steve “doesn’t see it as charity work, but as an investment.”
Steve Gleason continues to live. He continues to fight. He continues to inspire. And though he doesn’t resemble the statue that will forever embody him, his heroism far surpasses it.
Watch ESPN’s piece and read Gleason’s guest column in Monday Morning Quarterback. I guarantee you will never be the same. My words of appreciation and admiration pale in comparison to what Steve Gleason means to so many. To New Orleans. To the Saints. To those with ALS. To his wife and son. In a way, I feel like I know Steve Gleason. I watched him block that punt in 2006 and I’ve watched him openly battle ALS. Though his punt block is immortalized outside the Superdome, it is his battle with ALS that I admire. And his hope, resiliency, benevolence and sense of humor in the face of such a terrible disease are what make him legendary.
For more Saint rumors, news and opinion, visit our New Orleans Saints page