No White Flags

It is hard to find anything positive about American football. “Grown” men are beating and breaking each other for points. Points that have no meaning, really, accept the winning of a game. Violence wins games, violence wins the super bowl, and violence gets endorsements and money. The image of football is difficult, it is violent game but we are surprised that their violent men amongst it. Whether it is the domestic abuse of Ray Rice, the child abuse of Adrian Peterson, or the sexual assault by Ben Roethlisberger, in the NFL there are no heroes or great people. Every player is abusive, greedy, and an asshole. However, I think this wrong. Just because a mere handful of players are assholes does not mean the hundreds of others are. One of them is former Saints safety and special teamer, Steve Gleason.

Steve Gleason is a natural born fighter. He was a safety and part of the special team of the New Orleans Saints. He played for seven years, from 2000 to 2007. He was born in Spokane, Washington with metatarsus adductus “a disorder that turned the bottoms of his feet toward each other, requiring care and corrective measures from his parents.”[1] He overcame that and started playing sports, however unlike other kids, his interest in football was nil. In an interview he said, “I was extremely passionate about soccer growing up. I played soccer almost 12 months a year on various club, premier and developmental teams. I wasn’t really into football, other than on the playground.”[2] At the age of fourteen, his friend asked him to join him at football camp, “I ended up really liking it. Not knowing any better, I was drawn to the contact. I also thought football was so easy, from a conditioning standpoint, compared to soccer.”[3] Gleason went to a Prep School where he played both football and baseball. After high school, he went Washington State with a scholarship in football. In his sophomore year, he started as a “linebacker for the 1997 team that advanced to the Rose Bowl”[4] Washington’s first Rose Bowl in over sixty years but they lost to Michigan. In his college career, he had 188 solo tackles. The image of the dumb jock does not fit Steve Gleason; in college, he pursued two degrees, plus playing football and baseball.

After graduating, he was an undrafted free agent of the NFL; the Indianapolis Colts originally signed him, but in preseason The Colts released him and the Saints signed him. Gleason was not like the typical football player; he did not have the big mansion, the five luxury cars, and other useless and expensive things that most players think they need to prove their success. According to his wife, Michel Varisco thinking that he was the typical dumb bloated football star, his living situation in New Orleans proved her wrong. She said that he “was living in a one-bedroom Uptown apartment. It had no TV. It was packed with books, guitars, yoga mats, and weird healthy foods I’ve never heard of.”[5] Gleason was more Kerouac, minus the alcohol, hippie than Neanderthal football player. He was an amazing player, and he proved it on September 25th, 2006.

Ten years ago, Hurricane Katrina devastated the city and the people of New Orleans. Bodies, water, and death ravished and polluted the city. With nowhere to go the Superdome, the Saints playground, became a refuge and a hot, devastating home for thousands. Cots, medical supplies, the searching and praying for family members and crying replaced the screams of fans, footballs, and touchdowns. Cut to a year later, the Superdome is back to normal and the Saints are playing their first game in this new Dome. The team and city are still reeling from the Katrina; all they needed was a little hope. But where? The government and others failed them; flooding and bodies still polluted the city. Football sounds like a weird place, movement to find hope. A brutal game but for a city that went through Hell and back, a little rough game is nothing. Hope and more is what they got during the opening kickoff, the Saints were playing the Atlanta Falcons. The kickoff, everyone thought, was going to be the usual thing; the Falcons would kick the ball to the Saints, their kickoff returner, either a wide receiver or running back, catches the ball, and tries to run and gain the most yards. This did not happen on this day, the Falcons kick the ball, and number 37, Steve Gleason blocked the kick. He ran from the line and threw his whole body against the ball. The ball bounced off his chest and his teammate “Curtis Deloatch recovered the ball in the Falcons’ end zone for a touchdown.”[6] Screams and cheers pierced and echoed from the Superdome, people could not believe what happened. The touchback was the hope and motivation that the people of New Orleans needed. In addition, it was proof to America that New Orleans was going to be all right. The Saints won the game by a large margin, and that win created a fire that led to best season Saints ever played until their Super Bowl win in 2009.

Steve Gleason retired in 2008, and “landed a job as an executive with the Shaw Group in Baton Rouge- a primo gig with a Fortune 500 company.”[7] However, even with this amazing job that many people would kill for, Gleason being the constant adrenaline junkie struggled. One of his friends commented, “there was definitely a moment, after Steve retired and before he got sick, where he really struggled with his identity.”[8] Unfortunately, he found his identity when he started to notice that his foot began to drag anytime he rode his bike. His body slowly stopped working, “he couldn’t do a pull-up. His shoulders twitched. He could not lift some fingers or toes. He staggered a little.”[9] Months, turned into years of doctor visits and unknown reasons for why he was falling down and losing strength. January 2011 is when he was diagnosed with ALS, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. In simple terms, ALS is “a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body.”[10] Gleason lost his ability to walk, speak, and move any part of his body, but his mind still functions. The most heartbreaking thing is when diagnosed with ALS; his wife discovered she was pregnant. Knowing that he by the time his child was born, his voice and body will be gone or almost gone, he decided to record his deterioration or a better word his rebirth. Even with ALS, he never stopped dreaming and striving to never let this disease destroy him. Even when he lost his ability to walk, he still trekked up Machu Picchu with help of his family and friends. Even though his voice comes from a computer, this does not stop him from speaking out about the need for an ALS cure. Additionally, speaking out that the NFL needs to take responsibility for ALS, give money for research opportunities for ALS, and give money for families affected by this disease. Steve Gleason and his family created the Steve Gleason foundation, its motto is No White Flags, meaning that never giving up the fight for the cure of ALS. Additionally, the person with ALS and his/her family never giving up on living and continue to live life for the fullest.

Steve, and his wife Michel are my personal heroes because they are fighting a disease that is scary and the end is inevitable. But, he keeps living life to fullest, like everyone should. “Life is difficult” he admits, “not just for me or other ALS patients. Life is difficult for everyone. Finding ways to make life meaningful and purposeful and rewarding, doing the activities that you love and spending time with the people that you love- I think that’s the meaning of this human existence.”



[2] pg. 4

[3] Ibid, 4





[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid


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