Although he can no longer speak or move, little escapes Steve Gleason’s attention.
Thursday night was the exception.
In a surprise announcement during “Inspire,” an early birthday party plus fundraiser for Gleason’s foundation, the former Saint and hero of the team’s first post-Katrina game in the Superdome turned ALS awareness advocate was named the recipient of the 2018 Dave Dixon Sports Leadership Award from the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
“You never know with Steve, because it takes a lot to get something by him,” said Michel Gleason, Steve’s wife of 10 years. “Usually he wants to know everything in advance.
“We got him tonight, though.”
The Dixon Award is named for the late New Orleans sports entrepreneur who, among other things, led the campaign that resulted in the city being awarded the NFL franchise that became the Saints. It goes to a recipient who plays decisive roles through sports in his or her community, the state and beyond.
Gleason will be inducted into the Hall of Fame along with the rest of the Class of 2018 on June 30 in Natchitoches, where the hall is located. He is the 18th recipient of the award, which debuted in 2005.
Fittingly enough, one of the streets adjacent to the Superdome is named for Dixon, while on the plaza level outside the stadium, a statue called “Rebirth” commemorating Gleason’s blocked punt against the Atlanta Falcons that resulted in a touchdown and elicited certainly the most emotional response, if not the loudest, in the Dome’s history.
But that singular achievement was not why Gleason was honored Thursday.
It’s what Gleason has done since being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, three years later that’s meant just as much, if not more — his foundation has raised millions of dollars along with awareness and impacted the lives of those with the disease and their families.
Hall of Fame chairman Doug Ireland called Gleason “the epitome of leadership,” adding, “His impact goes far beyond games and scoreboards, but it has everything do to with competition.
“For countless ALS patients fighting for their lives, he is providing hope and showing courage. For their families and the rest of us, he is an inspiration.”
Longtime New Orleans broadcaster Ro Brown, a member of the 35-person selection committee that picks the Dixon winner, made Thursday’s announcement, saying Gleason is very much like the person for whom the award is named.
Gleason was given the news of his selection Thursday in a surprise announcement at the Team Gleason’s annual fundraiser at Fulton Alley.
“Steve has made an impact on this city, this state, this country and internationally,” Brown said. “Through his work, Steve has earned acclaim to Louisiana.
“That’s what the Dave Dixon Award is all about.”
Thursday’s event raised more than $100,000 and will be followed this weekend by a kid’s clinic.
Gleason’s latest accomplishment came earlier this month when Congress approved permanent funding to support communication devices for those with degenerative diseases after a campaign led by his foundation.
Gleason, who uses eye recognition and voice generating technology, had earlier lent his name to the bill that provides Medicare payment for all in need of those devices.
The Steve Gleason Act was symbolic of the efforts Gleason has made since 2009, when he was first diagnosed with ALS. With family and friends he created “Team Gleason,” with its “No White Flags” motto.
In the intervening years, Team Gleason has played host to “Summit for a Cure,” where those affected by ALS could explore new treatments. More than 18,000 people donated $1 million to the Ice Bucket Challenge. And in 2015, Team Gleason House was opened in New Orleans.
Blair Casey, assistant executive director of the Gleason Foundation, said that while Gleason has received many honors, including the George Halas Award from the Pro Football Writers Association for the player who overcomes the most adversity to succeed, said Thursday’s award was particularly meaningful because it is recognition from his adopted home state — not just because he played for the Saints for eight seasons, but because he met and married a local girl. The Gleasons have a 7-year-old son, Rivers.
“Steve may have been born in Washington, but he’s from New Orleans now,” said Casey, who is a native New Orleanian. “I think that’s because the culture is different here, and Steve’s personality led him to become involved into that infectious culture.
“Steve’s commitment to the culture, the city and to Louisiana makes him who he is. He represents that culture.”