Saints owner Tom Benson’s latest multimillion dollar charitable donation will help one of his own help others.
Benson and his wife, Gayle, are giving $5 million to former Saints special-teams ace Steve Gleason, an advocate for people living their lives with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neuromuscular disease that the player has and that put him in a wheelchair.
Gleason will use the gift to help his philanthropic foundation, Team Gleason, operate its House for Innovative Living, the group said in a news release Monday. The money will be used to cover operating expenses for the home, a residence in New Orleans’ St. Margaret Hospital outfitted with computer-operated technology designed to give up to 18 people fighting ALS as much independence as possible. It is said to be only the second building of its kind in the world.
Clare Durrett, associate executive director of Team Gleason, said via email that the foundation is in the process of developing the home and training in anticipation of their first residents, who should arrive in June.
About his and his wife’s donation, Benson in a written statement remarked, “Gayle and I couldn’t be more proud of the work that Steve and Team Gleason are doing for people living with ALS. Steve inspires us all with his message of facing and overcoming adversity.
“And, we wanted to be part of growing this community of productive individuals committed to living as independently as possible.”
Gleason told Sports Illustrated writer Peter King he hopes buildings like the Team Gleason House for Innovative Living eventually open in every NFL city. King first reported Benson’s donation to Team Gleason in the newest edition of his “Monday Morning Quarterback” column.
Gleason played for the Saints from 2000 to 2008, mostly in special-teams coverage but also as a backup safety. While his stats don’t distinguish him as one of the franchise’s numerical leaders, for a couple of reasons, he’s inspired innumerable people in a way few — if any — Saints have.
Gleason blocked a punt on the night the Superdome re-opened for the first time following Hurricane Katrina, and the play — which resulted in a touchdown and paved the way to a Saints victory — came to symbolize New Orleans’ will to recover from the devastating storm. Then, after being diagnosed with ALS in 2010, he teamed up with his wife, Michel, to launch a foundation and initiative dedicated to assisting with the research of potential cures for neuromuscular ailments as well as providing technology, equipment and services to people battling them.
“After I was diagnosed with ALS, the continued support Michel and I have received from the Saints and the Bensons has been humbling and a tremendous comfort to us both,” Gleason, 37, said in a statement circulated Monday. “They have been like a second family to us on and off the field. With the creation of the Team Gleason House, we announced to the world that, with the right care and the right technology, ALS patients can be productive and purposeful for decades.
“Through this generous gift, we are assured of the sustainability of that mission.”
Steve and Michel Gleason have a son, Rivers, who was born in October 2011. Steve Gleason is scheduled to receive an honorary degree from Loyola University on May 10 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the work related to his foundation.
Benson, meanwhile, has donated tens of millions of dollars to various religious, educational and medical causes throughout his career.
This post has been updated since it was first published to add information from a Team Gleason news release.