What can I say about Steve Gleason that hasn’t already been said? This badass played for the Washington State Cougars before my beloved New Orleans Saints. He went undrafted and nobody thought he had what it takes to play in the NFL, but that didn’t stop him from becoming the symbol of the Saints “rebirth”. Gleason’s blocked punt ranks as the greatest moment in Saints history, maybe only next to the Super Bowl. The guy has become a hero to people from all around the world and it has nothing to do with his accomplishments on the field.
In 2011 Gleason was diagnosed with the rare and debilitating disease, ALS. Most people would wave the white flag and just try to weather the storm and live out their days. Not Gleason. NO WHITE FLAGS! Gleason saw this as an opportunity to live his best life and inspire millions of people across the globe. He has since started Team Gleason to raise awareness for ALS. Just to name a couple awe-inspiring accomplishments of this great man: he’s gone skydiving and summited Machu Picchu. I’m perfectly healthy (for the most part) and I haven’t accomplished 1/100th of the shit this man has. What else could this man possibly do?
Well, downing a beer named after him through his feeding tube of course. Reason number 37,037 Steve Gleason is a complete badass. Over the weekend, the New Orleans legend headed over to his friend and former teammate, Zach Strief’s Port Orleans Brewing Co. to knock back the freshly brewed Gleason Pale Ale. Naturally, drinking beer through a feeding tube got us at Hash Sports fired up.
As if I already hadn’t spent enough time wondering about what makes Gleason tick. Luckily, a Jesuit High School Blue Jay comrade of mine, Blair Casey, was kind enough to answer some questions for me. Blair is a longtime friend of Steve’s and, as Assistant Executive Director of the Gleason Initiative Foundation, he’s an instrumental part of Team Gleason. When Blair began working for Steve, he was his primary caretaker and the accountant for the Foundation. As the Foundation grew, he began to work more with the technology and eventually moving away from the caretaking role, working solely with the Foundation.
As we all know, Gleason has quite the sense of humor, even in the tougher times of battling the disease. He seems to be able to make light of any situation, no matter how terrible he feels. Once while being interviewed Steve was asked, “What is the hardest part of living with ALS?” Gleason hilariously replied, “Having someone else wash my balls.” He said this knowing he was pushing the envelope while looking and laughing at Blair.
Another example of Gleason’s sense of humor was at the premiere of “Gleason”, the documentary of his battle with ALS. This was a closed event only with close family and friends invited. Saints coach Sean Payton spoke to the crowd and began to get choked up. To lighten the mood, Gleason blurted out to Payton that he was a “pussy” for getting choked up like that.
Recently, Gleason has been traveling commercially. Blair had a big role in trying to accomplish commercial flying with all the obstacles that it brings for an ALS patient. As they were finally situated on the plane, a flight attendant instructed Gleason that his ventilator had to go in the overhead compartment. Gleason of course had a smartass reply ready and said: “No problem, I’ll just hold my breath the entire flight.”
ALS only affects a person’s bodily functions, not their brain, and Gleason’s brain is still sharp as a tack. Blair told me that Gleason remembers everyone he comes in contact with and when he meets him or her, he actually makes it a point to get to know that person. That’s a LOT more than any everyday person can say. Gleason’s childhood friends always referred to him as the “ultimate includer.” He always had a way about him when he meets people that bring them in on a personal level, a real level that creates an immediate relationship. That aspect about him is contagious.
— Steve Gleason (@TeamGleason) March 8, 2018
I asked Blair if he could describe Gleason in five words and what it is like being involved with Gleason and his organization that has inspired so many people. He replied with six powerful words. Adventurous, Passionate, Driven, Hilarious, and Super Intelligent. What more could you ask for out of a person? Blair also said that growing up he always looked up to him for what he accomplished on and off the football field.
He met Gleason when the Saints had their training camp at Millsaps College, where Blair was playing football at the time. Blair said, “When you look up to somebody it doesn’t mean you know who they really are.” After he introduced himself to Gleason, he would stop and talk to him every day about what Blair was studying, his travels, and about life. Blair looked up to him then, but post diagnosis he exceeded the expectations of what a human being could accomplish when facing a huge dose of adversity. Blair contends he has learned more about life, love, and perspective from being around Gleason and his wife Michel than he ever could’ve imagined. Blair wouldn’t be who he is today without Gleason in his life.
As far as Gleason’s daily activities go, there’s no slowing down for him. Gleason sees his son off to school every day, works his ass off for the Foundation, and then picks up his son from school to spend time with him studying and practicing baseball and soccer. His outlook on life is as positive as one could be. Gleason wants to continue to live, love and thrive. He strives to be the best dad and husband possible while leading Team Gleason. Oh yea, and HE WANTS TO GO TO SPACE. That is not a joke. He applied just this week, and I have no doubts it will happen.
If you would like to donate to Team Gleason please follow this link. It’s for an amazing cause and an even more amazing person. GEAUX TEAM GLEASON! NO WHITE FLAGS!