Former Saints safety Steve Gleason, who famously blocked a punt on the night the Superdome re-opened for the first time following Hurricane Katrina, will be the latest person to strengthen the bond between his old team and Loyola University New Orleans.
Gleason — an advocate for people fighting amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neuromuscular disease he has — will receive an honorary degree from the school during its May 10 commencement ceremony, which is at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the school said. Gleason will be honored for teaming up with his wife, Michel, to launch a foundation and initiative dedicated to providing technology, equipment and services to people battling neuromuscular diseases or injuries.
Team Gleason and the Gleason Initiative Foundation recently opened the Team Gleason House for Innovative Living in New Orleans, a residence outfitted with computer-operated technology designed to give people fighting ALS as much independence as possible. It is said to be only the second building of its kind in the world.
Gleason will soon be one of many links between the Saints and Loyola. For example, Saints co-owner and Vice Chairwoman of the Board Rita Benson LeBlanc is a member of Loyola’s board of trustees. Saints President Dennis Lauscha earned a master’s in business administration from Loyola. Loyola’s president, the Rev. Kevin Wildes, S.J., is often seen at Saints games with team owner Tom Benson.
Benson was enrolled at Loyola for a time in the 1940s. His cousin Bob was a star basketball player who helped Loyola’s team reach the semifinals of a national tournament in 1946.
Gleason played for the Saints from 2000 to 2008. While his stats don’t rank him as one of the franchise’s numerical leaders, he went public with his ALS diagnosis in 2011, and his subsequent advocacy for those fighting the disease has inspired innumerable people.
That was evident as recently as Wednesday, when he turned 37. Prominent NFL personalities as well as the mayor of New Orleans were among those who wished him a happy birthday.
Social media users celebrated Gleason’s birthday by filming recreations of his legendary blocked punt and posting them online. Those who made videos included the families of former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita — a close friend of Gleason’s — and of Mike McCready, the lead guitarist for the rock band Pearl Jam.
Gleason wore No. 37 for the Saints. As a birthday present, the team gave Gleason a No. 37 Saints jersey with “Birthday” as the name on the back.
Gleason and his wife have one child, a 2-year-old son named Rivers.
Correction: This post inaccurately stated Tom Benson was a Loyola alum. He was actually enrolled there for a time, the school said.