Former Saints safety Steve Gleason, who has inspired as many with his work after being diagnosed with ALS as he did on the football field, admits he has mixed feelings about the sport.
While acknowledging a medical link between playing a sport that features concussive hits and certain brain diseases, he’s not willing to blame the game for everything.
Guest-writing Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback column, Gleason had an existential take on the direction his life had taken if he didn’t play the game. He can no longer walk, talk or eat because of the progression of the disease, but wrote a moving column using his eyes and a specially made computer
“So, I have conjured my own meaning from my circumstance, if in fact football did cause my ALS,” he wrote. “It means to me that I gave my life helping a city and a region in ruins find some hope in their struggle for rebirth. I will never regret that.”
That’s a reference to his blocked punt which was recovered for a touchdown in the first game in the Superdome post-Hurricane Katrina, a play that came to symbolize the city’s recovery.
He’s also aware that many wonder whether he’d do it again, or whether he’d want his son to play.
“The simple answer is this,” he wrote. “Right now, I’m happy. My life is not easy, but it’s awesome.”
While he said football was so intertwined in his existence to separate now, he’s not sure he wants the same for his young son Rivers.
“I never played football until I was 14, and I see no reason for Rivers to play until he is at least that old,” Gleason wrote. “I do not intend to force Rivers into or out of any activity, but unless there is further [evidence] regarding the safety of football, I believe I can make a strong case to Rivers to take his services and do something amazing elsewhere.”
His father already has, using his affliction as a platform to raise others up on. Whether that would have been possible if not for, or whether it’s because of football, seems like such a small part of the story now.