The security of former New Orleans Saints Steve Gleason, an ALS patient and activist, was awarded the prestigious Congress Gold Medal for his work in the fight against the disease at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.
Gleason received the medal, the highest civilian award conferred by Congress, in a ceremony attended by Congress Leader and his former teammate, quarterback Drew Brees.
"This award, from the elected officials representing people in the United States, is a great honor for me," said Gleason, who was diagnosed with debilitating degenerative disease in 2011, using a speech generator.
"But more important to me is that this honor represents a little joy and encouragement and is an incentive even for tens of thousands of exceptional families who live with ALS."
On the pitch, the former NFL player was perhaps best known for blocking a barge in the first minutes of the Saints' first game at their renovated stadium after Hurricane Sandy was destroyed.
His involvement in ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, began when he retired and founded the Team Gleason Foundation, a nonprofit that helps people with this disease provide services.
He also campaigned for the adoption of the Steve Gleason Act, which expanded Medicare's benefits to include speech generation devices for patients with diseases such as ALS.
"Only 163 people have ever received this honor, George Washington, Nelson Mandela, mother Theresa and now Steve Gleason," said Senator Chuck Schumer at the ceremony.
"But instead of cursing the darkness, Steve decided to light a candle. He chose to inspire and help others who defy ALS as he is. "
Drew Brees, quarterback of New Orleans Saints, praised Gleason's persistence.
"I have known Steve for 13 years if I sum up his attitude, his tenacity, his matra – there would be no question of whether we will reach the goal, but only when," said Brees.
"There is no one on earth who has the strength, courage, passion and tenacity to overcome all obstacles and achieve the lasting effect that Steve has achieved," he added.