On the Saturday night before the Super Bowl, I attended a fundraiser for Steve Gleason and his foundation, Team Gleason. Steve is one of those underdogs that New Orleans loves.
On September 25, 2006, the special teams player for the Saints blocked a punt, which was recovered for a touchdown. The score was the first for the Saints in Superdome since Hurricane Katrina had devastated the city. Later that season, Steve won the “Special Teams Player of the Year” award for the Saints.
Steve retired from the NFL in 2008 and enrolled in the MBA program at Tulane University. In January 2011, he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).
The progressive neurodegenerative disease, often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord and eventually leads to the death as the control of muscle movement deteriorates. The victims literally become trapped in their minds as they lose the ability to speak or move, while their minds stay strong.
When I met Steve on Saturday, he was in motorized wheelchair. His eyes formed sentences on the computer attached to the wheelchair that vocalized his thoughts. He made it clear that he had no plans to fade away without putting up a fight.
He and his family and friends have banded to together to form Team Gleason to raise public awareness of ALS, create a global conversation about the disease to ultimately find an end to the disease and to offer to others suffering with ALS the leading edge technology, equipment and services.
The Big Game Big Give party was hosted by J.P. Morgan, Forbes, Lamborghini and Michael Bay, the director of the “Transformers” film series. Chef Donald Link, owner of the Cochon restaurant, donated the food. Jordin Sparks was the entertainment.
The proceeds went to funding Team Gleason House for Innovative Living, which will be based in the Big Easy to develop new technologies for patients suffering from ALS. Steve had set a goal of raising $5 million for the house by the end of the Super Bowl.
Saints Quarterback Dree Brees donated $250,000 to the facility. JP Morgan Chase and Co. gave a $350,000 grant. Bay auctioned off at the party a walk-on part in his next movie. J.P. Morgan put up four courtside tickets to the U.S. Open. However, the top auction item was a trip to Peru to climb Machu Picchu in April with Steve and former teammate Scott Fujita—a clear indication that Steve hasn’t stopped fighting.
In a cynical world, there still are inspirational heroes.