Steve Gleason – a former WSU football standout who started a charity to empower those living with ALS after his diagnosis in 2011 – will receive the highest honor the United States Congress can bestow on a civilian this week.

Gleason received the Congressional Gold Medal at noon PST on Jan. 15 in the United States Capitol in Statuary Hall. The ceremony was broadcast by CSPAN.

The award requires an act of congress and the president’s signature. He is the first former NFL player to receive the honor; he played for the New Orleans Saints from 2000 to 2008.

Among the successes of his charity – Team Gleason – was a 2015 challenge made to Microsoft to create a way for people who are completely paralyzed to navigate their power wheelchairs with their eyes. Microsoft completed the request and is among those working to make the technology more widely available. Gleason and the charity also hosted a summit in 2014 to bring together ALS researchers, patients, caregivers and other stakeholders. That event has morphed into the largest coordinated and collaborative ALS research project in the world, Answer ALS, per the charity’s website.

Team Gleason has provided nearly $10 million in adventure, technology, equipment and car services to more than 15,000 people living with ALS. The charity also works to raise awareness about ALS – also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease – which causes the death of neurons controlling voluntary muscles. There is no known cure, something Gleason, his charity and millions of people around the world are working to change.

Gleason was a standout athlete during his time at WSU from 1995 to 1999, earning letters all four years for football and baseball. He was a two-time captain of the football team, earned All-Pac-10 honors three times and finished his career with the ninth-most tackles in school history. He was integral to the team’s 1997 Rose Bowl appearance on the defensive side of the football.

In 2017, Gleason received the highest honor WSU can bestow on its alumni – the Regent’s Distinguished Alumnus Award.

“Steve Gleason epitomizes the essence of ‘Cougar Spirit,’” President Kirk Schulz said. “His passion to persevere, and succeed, despite life’s challenges, has inspired thousands, not only in the United States, but around the world.”

Last year, WSU Spokane partnered with Team Gleason to establish the Steve Gleason Institute for Neuroscience, where researchers will work with area health care providers and patients to bridge gaps between care and potential treatments of neurodegenerative diseases. Fundraising for the institute is underway to expand operations, complete building renovations and launch research and patient‑care operations.

Gleason worked with the Congressional Gold Medal Committee on the design of the medal, which depicts him wearing his Saints jersey as well as a mountain and alpine forest honoring his native state of Washington.