Former New Orleans Saints star Steve Gleason will be awarded the coveted Congressional Gold Medal under legislation that won final approval Thursday.
The measure, which earlier passed the U.S. Senate without objection, cleared the House 390-2 and is headed to the desk of President Donald Trump.
"Through his work to help others who are disabled, Steve Gleason has changed so many lives for the better," U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, said in a statement.
"As more members of Congress heard about Steve's work, the support for this bill only grew," said Cassidy, chief sponsor of the measure.
"Steve is a hero to many and I'm proud we got this done to honor a great American."
Gleason, 41, has amyotropic lateral sclerosis, or ALS and also known as Lou Gehrig's disease after the New York Yankees star of the 1920s and 1930s.
Michel, Steve and Rivers Gleason welcomed a new member of their family to the world Tuesday.
The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award given by Congress for those who make a lasting contribution to the nation. Previous winners include Mother Teresa, civil rights icon Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King.
Gleason is being honored for his work through the Gleason Initiative Foundation to provide those with neuromuscular diseases or injuries with the assistance they need to thrive.
In a tweet late Thursday, Gleason wrote that he has been with ALS for eight years, the same amount of time he spent in the NFL. It was the struggle to find solutions and support that led him, his wife, Michel, and their mentors to work towards solutions.
“In many ways, I feel I’ve conquered ALS. Not only that, our foundations help others to be fellow conquerors – until we find treatments and a cure,” Gleason wrote. “I am honored and 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.”
My statement on the Congressional Gold Medal.— Steve Gleason (@TeamGleason) December 21, 2018
Clare Durrett, associate executive director of Team Gleason, said Thursday the medal winner was Christmas shopping when the award was announced.
Durrett said Gleason never saw the award as having much chance of winning final approval. "He was so humbled about it that he was almost embarrassed," she said.
Team Gleason is an ALS support group.
Gleason is also being recognized for his advocacy of federal legislation ensuring that those with diseases like ALS have access to speech-generating devices.
"These devices provide people living with ALS who have lost their voices with the critically important means to communicate with health care professionals, loved ones and their communities," ALS Association President and CEO Calaneet Balas said, also in a statement.
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Gleason played for the Saints from 2000-08.
He is best known for his blocked punt against the Atlanta Falcons in the team's first game in the Mercedes Benz Superdome after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005.
"Steve is leaving a truly indelible mark in American history and we are honored to call him a true New Orleans Saint," said Saints owner Gayle Benson.
Gleason was diagnosed with ALS in 2011.
While the bill won lopsided approval Thursday. It required two-thirds of the members of each chamber to sign on as co-sponsors to be considered.
The Senate endorsed the award in June.
However, it languished in the U.S. House for months.
On Dec. 6, the Senate-passed bill had 55 co-sponsors in the House, well below the minimum 290 needed.
Cassidy, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, and others waged a furious campaign in recent weeks to round up support, especially since the deadline for final approval was this week. Otherwise, the process would have had to start over in January when a new Congress convenes.
Scalise said, "More than 5,000 people each year are diagnosed with ALS, and Steve Gleason serves as a leading voice in championing the fight against ALS."
U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans said, "Steve will join in the ranks of fellow American trailblazers who have changed the course of history for the better."
Scalise and Richmond sponsored the bill in the House.
The lone "no" votes in the House were cast by U.S. Reps. Justin Amash, of Michigan, and Thomas Massie, of Kentucky, both Republicans.
Massie said on Twitter that he insisted on recorded rather than voice votes, including the Gleason bill, because last week House leaders suspended the 1973 War Powers Act, which he called a dangerous precedent.