Tuesday, June 18, 2013
STEVE GLEASON: A HERO DEFINED
Before Monday, not many people other than hardcore football fans knew of Steve Gleason.
Very few people outside of New Orleans were familiar with his story. That all changed thanks
to the malicious and callous act of three sports radio jocks in Atlanta. For some reason, perhaps,
to get a cheap laugh, they chose to mock Gleason, who is dying from ALS. They actually
produced a skit that had someone acting as Gleason being interviewed live on-air with the
answers coming from a computerized voice.
In the annals of sports talk radio history, this could have been the worst attempt at humor.
Listeners were shocked, management of the station, 790 The Zone, was incensed. They acted
swiftly, first suspending the trio, then terminating their contracts. Nobody argued in defense of
the three radio jocks, and how could they? Making fun of a man dying from a brutal disease
was about as low as it could go. It was despicable.
But through all the slimed hurled by three radio jocks who lived in it, Gleason has emerged
as a bigger inspiration and hero than he already was. This stupid act produced by
three grown men, has shined the spotlight on a former athlete who is a real man. It has
brought more attention to ALS, an insidious disease. Every terminal illness is no less
painful than the next, especially when the result is the same. But ALS is just brutal,
attacking the nervous system and robbing a person of all their motor skills.
Life isn't fair, but it really didn't seem right that Gleason was afflicted with the disease
in the prime of his life. He was a football player who overcame tremendous odds to stick
and stay in NFL. Gleason, a linebacker at Washington State, went undrafted in 2000, but
signed on as a free-agent with the Indianapolis Colts, and then was promptly cut. He hooked
on with the Saints where he became a folk hero, immortalized with a statue outside of the
On September 25, 2006, the Saints were playing their first game in 21 months after
Hurricane Katrina tore apart New Orleans. In the first quarter against the Atlanta Falcons,
Gleason blocked a punt that was recovered for a touchdown. The roof of the Superdome
nearly blew off because of the noise generated from what became an iconic moment in
Saints history. A statue of Gleason's punt block stands outside the dome and it will remain
there long after Gleason is gone, which could be sometime soon.
In 2011, Gleason announced he has ALS. The entire city of New Orleans was devastated.
Gleason was a free-spirit, who was much too young to be taken down by this terrible disease.
Today, Gleason can't walk, talk, or do much of anything on his own. To see him in a
motorized wheelchair withering away knocks the wind out of you.
But Gleason, hasn't given up, gotten down, or ever wondered, "why me?" He has incredible
courage, character, and resiliency through this trying time. Gleason and his wife had a baby
boy and he's hiked mountains in Peru. ALS may have slowed him down, but it hasn't stopped
him from living. On the day those radio jocks in Atlanta mocked him, he filled in for Peter
King of Sports Illustrating, writing the"Monday Morning Quarterback," by blinking his eyes
on a computer device. Think about how that is. He detailed his incredible battle with ALS.
It is sad, funny, and difficult to read at times. The end game is near and Gleason knows it.
Perhaps, the attention Gleason received over the past two days will help people become more
aware of what he and other ALS victims are dealing with. It's not pretty. Perhaps, more people
will reach into their pockets and donate money for research to help cure this terrible disease. I
sure hope that's the case.
Perhaps, the attempt to mock Gleason really just showed how strong he is. The three men who
made fun of him, aren't the man Gleason is if you put them all of them together. On Tuesday,
he accepted the apologies of the three men. He holds no bitterness inside as ALS ravages his
body and mind.
Gleason was the bigger man because that's who he is. We will remember him far
longer than we'll pay attention to three guys who tried get a laugh at a dying man's expense.
That's because Steve Gleason is a hero defined.