Dec. 20 (UPI) -- Former New Orleans Saints defensive back and special teams star Steve Gleason will receive the Congressional Gold Medal for his courageous battle with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and his contributions to the research of the disease since being diagnosed.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation on Thursday to award Gleason the medal for his efforts, which is the highest honor Congress can give to a civilian. The final stage to complete the legislation requires a signature by President Donald Trump.
Gleason will become the first-ever NFL player to receive the honor after it is signed.
"It is a true honor to witness Steve Gleason become the first New Orleanian and former NFL Legend to receive the Congressional Gold Medal," said Saints owner Gayle Benson in a statement. "Along with his wife, Michel, and everyone at Team Gleason, they have unfailingly confronted ALS with a courageous and unwavering determination. Their tireless work to provide crucial assistance and the latest in technology and services has improved countless people's quality of living. Steve is leaving a truly indelible mark in American history and we are honored to call him a true New Orleans Saint."
The U.S. Senate originally nominated Gleason for the award back in June, with the initial legislation being proposed to the House and Senate in April by Sen. Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.).
"Through his work to help others who are disabled, Steve Gleason has changed so many lives for the better," Cassidy said in a statement. "As more members of Congress heard about Steve's work, the support for this bill only grew. Steve is a hero to many and I'm proud we got this done to honor a great American."
Gleason played with the Saints from 2000-06 as a defensive back and was a key piece of the Saints' special teams unit. He retired from football in 2008 and was diagnosed with ALS in 2011.
One of Gleason's greatest feats was the creation and organizing of the "ALS Ice Bucket Challenge" in 2014. The viral trend raised more than $100 million toward research and highlighted the growing troubles of the disease.
He established The Gleason Initiative Foundation, also known as Team Gleason. The initiative raises global awareness of the disease and provides people who are affected with neuromuscular diseases or injuries with the help that is required.
Gleason has previously been recognized with the George Halas Award (2015) from the Pro Football Writers Association.