The city had been devastated – massive property damage, unthinkable financial losses, tragic loss of life – when Hurricane Katrina came calling in August of 2005 with her 175 MPH winds and following storm surge. Lives turned upside down. Homes and businesses were ravaged. It was feared that the Superdome – a center point of the city – would not be salvaged. A thriving, vibrant city with its laissez faire approach had been dealt a blow which left its population reeling and many wondering if the city could come back.
Come back it has. The Superdome was renovated and made its national debut with a Monday football game in September of 2006. One moment – one play- came to symbolize the rebirth of a great city and left one football player immortalized. In the first game in the Super Dome in nearly two years, the Saints played their arch rival Falcons. The Saints were back. The Dome was back. In the first quarter a relatively unknown player blocked an Atlanta punt which was returned for a touchdown. The roar in the dome, throughout the city and the region was palpable. The CITY was back. That play, that game illustrated to the nation and reminded a city of its grit, resolve and stubborn will. That play symbolized the rebirth of New Orleans.
Becoming a legend and a folk hero is not what makes that player a Fearless Brand – far from it. Steve Gleason’s conviction – in his beliefs and through his actions – make him a fearless brand in life – period.
Fearless brands have an authenticity and a conviction of purpose which consistently drive their actions.
A stand-out high school athlete – he played football and baseball at Washington State University before playing eight years in the NFL as a Saint. At the end of the 2006 season he was named the NFL Special Teams Player of the Year. But playing football was merely a platform for Steve Gleason – a platform that allowed him to expand his long time efforts to help others – especially children.
In 2003, prior to achieving his notoriety – he formed the One Sweet World Foundation to support both literacy and environmentalism. Long hair hanging out of his helmet was a trademark of Steve’s. He consistently cut and donated to Locks of Love. After Hurricane Katrina, Gleason’s foundation led a collaborative effort called “Backpacks for Hope” – an initiative to support young hurricane victims by providing school supplies, backpacks and other assistance. This effort touched over 7,000 kids throughout the Gulf Coast and provided over $500,000 to them and their families. Steve was a consistent visitor at the New Orleans Children’s Hospital bringing hope and care to countless children.
He retired from football in 2008. He then attended Tulane University where he earned his MBA. He had married a New Orleans girl and in 2011 they had their first child – a son named Rivers. Also in 2011 doctors confirmed that Steve Gleason had Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis -ALS – known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. There is no cure – yet – for this insidious disease, but Gleason will not allow his disease to keep him from his purpose – from living his life.
Today he is wheel chair bound and physically a shadow of the one-time professional athlete. As the disease progressed he has lost his ability to move and speak. He communicates by using a computer which uses eye-tracking technology to write and speak with a synthetic voice. However, his will and his heart – his actions and his conviction are stronger and more active than ever.
When diagnosed he began to make video journals of his life and experiences for Rivers. He formed the Team Gleason organization to generate global awareness of ALS and the search for a cure while providing leading edge technology and assistance to those who are afflicted. The third objective of Team Gleason is to further raise awareness of the disease by providing documentation of extraordinary life adventures of people suffering with muscular diseases or injuries.
Gleason himself partakes in such adventures – more so than most who are not afflicted with his disease. He participated in Ride 2 Recovery, a 400-mile bike ride benefiting wounded veterans by riding on a custom-made recumbent bicycle. He has written articles for Sports Illustrated and live tweeted during sporting events. He interviewed his favorite band Pearl Jam about their tenth album and shared the stage with them. He climbed to the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu in the Andes Mountains with former Saints teammate Scott Fujita. He did all of this in 2013. He has more adventures planned for 2014.
Also in 2013 his efforts to fight ALS generated “Summit for a Cure” bringing together doctors, scientists and others interested in finding a cure for ALS. The Team Gleason House was opened in New Orleans, committed to helping people diagnosed with incurable neuromuscular disorders live more independently. Gleason has partnered with WSU and Tulane to push for a cure.
It is no wonder that “No White Flags” is the mantra for Team Gleason – but it is not a mantra, it is the way Steve Gleason has lived his life – before and after his ALS. Perhaps there’s no better way to summarize his efforts than in his own words from an interview with the New Orleans Gambit.
”Although we feel good about what we have accomplished, in terms of raising the level of awareness, there is more work to be done,” Gleason wrote to Gambit. “One aspect of our mission is to ‘help develop and provide leading-edge technology for people with ALS.’ Although we have made some good progress on this, we intend to significantly shift the paradigm of what’s possible with technology in 2014. I say this all the time, but it’s important enough to repeat here: With the right equipment and technology, people with ALS can not only live but be extremely productive for decades.”
There is so much to learn from and be inspired by Steve Gleason. In the context of building your fearless brand the key point is this – there is nothing more powerful than the conviction that comes once you find your true purpose and commit to it. Be courageous enough to seek clarity about yourself. Know your skills and improve them however you can. Embrace your dreams and live your passion. Know your value to yourself and to the world. Once you find that, you too can embrace No White Flags.