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Steve Gleason smiles as he communicates with Saints punter Thomas Morstead during his Seventh Annual Inspire Birthday Celebration at Fulton Alley in New Orleans last February.

WASHINGTON — Former NFL Saints star and ALS advocate Steve Gleason will receive the Congressional Gold Medal during a Jan. 15 ceremony at the U.S. Capitol.

Gleason was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — also known as ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease — in 2011. Since then, he's become a leading advocate for people living with the paralyzing neuromuscular disease.

He will be the first NFL player to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, which is the highest civilian honor awarded by Congress. Previous honorees include Thomas Edison, Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks and Jackie Robinson.

"The list of past winners is filled with enlightened and powerful giants of humanity," Gleason wrote in his statement when the honor was announced. "It's ridiculously overwhelming."

Gleason said he'll accept the Congressional Gold Medal "for all the families who have been diagnosed with ALS, as well as anyone struggling to overcome life's inevitable adversities."

Last year, President Donald Trump signed the bill awarding the honor to Gleason, after the legislation received overwhelming bipartisan support in the House and Senate.

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, spearheaded efforts to recognize Gleason's ALS advocacy and unveiled sketches last fall of the design that Gleason worked with the Congressional Gold Medal Committee to create for the medal.

One side shows the image of Gleason, fist pumped in the air, No. 37 across his chest. The back features a forest-lined stream with a mountain in the background in honor of Gleason's native state of Washington and the words “Keep Exploring.”

"Steve Gleason has shown tremendous courage and resolve in the face of ALS," Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, said Friday. "He has remained positive in the face of extreme adversity, inspiring all who hear his story. Steve deserves this medal, and I look forward to his presentation ceremony.”

U.S. House GOP Whip Steve Scalise, a Jefferson Republican who led the House effort to pass the designation, also stressed the historic occasion. The ceremony will take place in statuary hall at the U.S. Capitol.

“Steve Gleason is a true Louisiana hero, not only for his time as a New Orleans Saint, but even more through the bravery and courage he has displayed as a leading advocate in championing the fight against ALS," Scalise said. "This recognition is a true testament to how powerful a mark Steve has made not only in our community, but across the country. His spirit and determination serve as an inspiration to us all and I can think of no better way to honor him."

Details: Steve Gleason Congressional Gold Medal ceremony

Date: 3 p.m. (ET)/ 4 p.m. (CT)

Location: Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol

Watch online: The event is expected to air on CSPAN.org

Email Elizabeth Crisp at ecrisp@theadvocate.com and follow on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.