Aug. 10: Steve Gleason to receive WSU’s highest alumni honor

By John Sutherland, University Communications

steve gleasonPULLMAN, Wash. – Former Cougar and NFL standout Steve Gleason will receive Washington State University’s 2017 Regents’ Distinguished Alumnus Award, the university’s highest alumni honor, Aug. 10 on the Pullman campus.

The community is invited to attend the event, which begins at 2 p.m. on the Club Level of Martin Stadium. WSU President Kirk Schulz and Regent Ron Sims will present the award. A reception will follow. RSVP here:

“Steve Gleason epitomizes the essence of ‘Cougar Spirit,’” said President Schulz. “His passion to persevere, and succeed, despite life’s challenges, has inspired thousands, not only in the United States, but around the world.”

Leading spokesperson for ALS cure

steve gleason and wsu football coach mike leach
Steve Gleason and WSU Football Coach Mike Leach

Gleason is recognized as a leading spokesperson for the effort to find a cure for the neuromuscular disease Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, in 2011, Gleason famously said then “There will be no white flags.” In the six years since his diagnosis, the Team Gleason Foundation he founded has raised awareness of ALS and millions of dollars to fund research and technology.

In 2015, Gleason was the inspiration behind a bill signed into law by President Barack Obama. The Steve Gleason Act makes critical technology available to ALS patients through Medicare and Medicaid.

Gleason was named one of two Sports Illustrated’s Inspirations of the Year in 2014 and has served as a keynote speaker for Microsoft and at two United Nations-sponsored Social Innovation Summits. He also partnered with Microsoft to develop a software program so people like him can drive vehicles with their eyes.

In 2016, a feature film that chronicles Gleason’s life with ALS debuted in selected theaters nationwide. Titled Gleason, the movie received critical acclaim nationally.

A symbol of New Orleans’ resilience

Gleason reached the NFL after graduating from WSU, playing for the New Orleans Saints from 2000 to 2007. He provided New Orleans with its first public moment of joy after Hurricane Katrina when, at the beginning of the Saints’ first game back in the Superdome, he blocked a punt that was returned for a touchdown. The blocked punt became so symbolic of New Orleans’ resilience in the face of disaster that a statue, “Rebirth,” depicting Gleason’s play of the game, was installed outside the Superdome.

A standout WSU student athlete

As a WSU student athlete from 1995 to 1999, Gleason was a four-year letter winner in both football and baseball. He also earned academic honors in management information systems and entrepreneurship.

On the football field, Gleason was a two-time captain, earned All-Pac-10 honors three times, and finished his career with the ninth-most tackles in school history. He was a key member of the defense that helped lead WSU to the 1997 Rose Bowl for the first time in 67 years. He captained the Cougar baseball team as a senior.

About the award

Since 1962, the Regents’ Distinguished Alumnus Award has been given to an alumnus/a who has made significant contributions to society and, through his or her accomplishments, has brought attention to the quality of a WSU education.

Previous winners include broadcaster Edward R. Murrow, author Sherman Alexie, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, cartoonist Gary Larson, astronaut John Fabian, sports broadcaster Keith Jackson and wheat researcher Orville Vogel. Gleason is the award’s 48th recipient.

For more about the award, see


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