Former Saints player and ALS activist Steve Gleason received the Congressional Gold Medal on Wednesday, and Drew Brees was among the speakers at the ceremony in the Capitol in Washington D.C.
Gleason, who competed for the Saints from 2000-06, became a New Orleans hero with his 2006 blocked punt in the first Saints game at the Superdome since Hurricane Katrina. He was diagnosed with ALS in 2011.
Following the diagnosis, Gleason started a foundation that raises money for treatment of ALS patients. According to its website, the charity has raised nearly $10 million. He now uses a wheelchair for mobility and eye-tracking computer software to communicate with a computerized voice.
Brees, once a teammate of Gleason, gave an emotional speech honoring Gleason.
"Of all the people on this Earth, Steve is the last person to ever deserve something like this. This is not fair," Brees recalled thinking when he learned of the diagnosis. "For the 13 years I've known Steve, if I were to sum up his attitude, his tenacity, his mantra, it would be: 'It's not a matter of if we will accomplish the goal, it's only when.'"
Drew Brees had everyone in tears today, including himself (and maybe even a few of us hard-boiled journalists), after his powerful, emotional speech at the Steve Gleason Congressional Gold Medal ceremony. pic.twitter.com/ZsgXiO9o58— Jeff Duncan (@JeffDuncan_) January 15, 2020
NFL PLAYER HONORED: House Speaker Speaker Nancy Pelosi is presenting the Congressional Gold Medal to former NFL player Steve Gleason for his work to raise awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). https://t.co/efWFE3MoOA— NowThis (@nowthisnews) January 15, 2020
The ceremony was led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and was attended by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and his predecesor, Paul Tagliabue, among other league figures. Brees spoke following Gleason's speech.
Gleason is the first NFL player to receive the Congressional Gold Medal. Other athletes who have received the medal include Roberto Clemente, Jack Nicklaus and the 1980 United States Olympic team.
"No one is immune from anguish, tragedy or adversity. Not even elected officials, NFL players or even the most holy saints," Gleason said after receiving the honor. "The truth is that we all experience pain in our lives, but I believe the problems we face are our opportunity to find our human purpose."