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Steve Gleason receives Congressional Gold Medal for his work as advocate for people with ALS

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Steve Gleason became the first former NFL player to receive a Congressional Gold Medal — the highest honor that Congress can bestow on a civilian — during an emotional ceremony Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

Gleason, who was a special teams standout for the New Orleans Saints, was recognized for his crusading work as an advocate for people with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He is only the eighth individual athlete ever to receive the Congressional Gold Medal.

Gleason pointed out during the ceremony that his is “not a football story or even an ALS story, but rather a human story.”

“The truth is that we all experience pain in our lives, but I believe that the problems we face are our opportunity and define our human purpose,” he said.

After concluding his speech, he received a standing ovation from a crowd that included members of the Senate and House of Representatives, Saints quarterback Drew Brees, team owner Gayle Benson, and current and former NFL commissioners Roger Goodell and Paul Tagliabue.

Gleason, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2011, speaks through groundbreaking speech-generating technology that allows him to type words on a tablet through eye movements. The voice is actually his own, thanks to recordings he taped during the early stages of the disease.

Gleason and his foundation were the driving force behind The Steve Gleason Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2015 to make critical technology available to patients through Medicare and Medicaid.

While ALS has taken away his muscular function, Gleason’s mind and wit remain sharp, and he drew a laugh from the crowd from one comment in particular.

“While sharing one’s weaknesses may not be common practice for people, especially for politicians in an election year — wink, wink — sharing my weaknesses was entirely critical for me to play eight years in the NFL,” he said, noting the importance of collaboration in solving problems and overcoming obstacles. “And it has been unquestionably critical to my survival and purpose for the last nine years, living with a disease as dreadfully beautiful as ALS.

“Our human potential is boundless,” Gleason said.

His emotional speech left Brees choked up as he recalled the time when he first heard about Gleason’s diagnosis.

“There is no person on earth with the strength, courage, passion and tenacity to overcome all obstacles and make the lasting impact that Steve has made,” said Brees, who pointed out that Wednesday was both his 41st birthday and the 11th birthday of his son, Baylen, also in attendance.

“Quite honestly, there was no place we would rather be than here with you right now,” Brees said. “And there is no person more deserving of this honor than you.”

Several elected officials from both houses of Congress also gave moving speeches about Gleason, who was unanimously selected for the honor by both houses of Congress before President Donald Trump signed the legislation.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced Gleason as a “true American hero.”

“You bring luster to this award and pride to our nation,” she said.

The short list of past athletes who received the Congressional Gold Medal: Roberto Clemente, Joe Louis, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

Gleason’s most spectacular moment on a football field came when he blocked a punt against the Atlanta Falcons to spark a Saints victory on the night the Superdome reopened in 2006 post-Hurricane Katrina.



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Dan Radakovich, who starred at Penn State before coaching career, dies at 84

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PITTSBURGH — Dan Radakovich, who starred as a linebacker at Penn State in the 1950s before winning two Super Bowls as an assistant with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s, died Thursday. He was 84. Robert Morris University, where Radakovich served two stints as an assistant coach between 1994 and 2007, announced Radakovich’s death on Thursday. A cause of death was not immediately available.

Known as “Bad Rad,” Radakovich — a native of the Pittsburgh suburb of Duquesne — played both center and linebacker for the Nittany Lions, moving immediately into coaching following his graduation. He stayed at his alma mater through 1969, helping the school earn its national reputation as “Linebacker U.”

He spent the majority of his career bouncing back and forth between coaching jobs in college and the NFL. He spent a season with the Steelers in 1971 as a defensive line coach, made a brief stop at the University of Colorado before returning to Pittsburgh in 1974. The Steelers won the first two of their four Super Bowl titles in the 1970s with Radakovich leading a linebacker group that included Hall of Famers Jack Ham and Jack Lambert.

Radakovich’s NFL coaching stints included time with San Francisco, Denver, Minnesota, Cleveland, the Los Angeles Rams and the New York Jets. Radakovich also coached collegiately at Cincinnati, North Carolina State and Westminster.

Radakovich reunited with former Jets coach Joe Walton at Robert Morris. He spent 13 years in all with the Colonials, taking on roles as defensive coordinator and assistant head coach.

Walton called Radakovich “the best on-field coach I’ve ever seen.”

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Bills rookie Cody Ford has fine reduced; fan-raised money donated to charity

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Buffalo Bills rookie Cody Ford‘s fine for an illegal blindside hit was reduced to less than a quarter of its original amount, the offensive lineman tweeted Thursday.

Originally fined $28,075 for his hit on defender Jacob Martin during Buffalo’s AFC wild-card loss to the Houston Texans, Ford appealed the decision and won, earning a new punishment of $4,211.

Both the penalty and its ensuing fine were met with near-universal criticism last month; the penalty stalled a critical late-game drive and knocked Buffalo out of field-goal range. Once the original fine was announced, fans started a GoFundMe campaign to help Ford pay the amount, raising $3,870 — which Ford said was donated to charity.

The call was widely panned because the hit seemed tame by NFL standards; Ford did not launch into Martin, whose body appeared to be facing Ford’s direction at the time of the impact. However, Ford was coming back toward the line of scrimmage and initiated contact with his shoulder, drawing the penalty.

On third-and-9 in overtime against Houston on Jan. 4, Bills quarterback Josh Allen scrambled four yards to the Texans’ 38-yard line to bring up fourth down — which became third-and-24 after the 15-yard penalty on Ford. Buffalo failed to convert from there, punted and ultimately lost on a game-winning Texans field goal.

The Bills’ second-round pick out of Oklahoma, Ford started 15 games at right tackle in 2019. In his tweet announcing the fine reduction Thursday, he stood firm that he disagrees with the penalty.



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No decision on revealing emails between Saints officials, church after hearing

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NEW ORLEANS — No decision was made immediately Thursday after a civil court hearing to determine whether emails between officials from the New Orleans Saints and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans will be made public.

Attorneys for the Saints, the archdiocese, The Associated Press and plaintiffs suing the church over sexual abuse allegations made arguments before retired Judge Carolyn Gill-Jefferson, who was appointed as a “special master” in the case. Gill-Jefferson said she will give her recommendation on how to proceed to presiding Judge Ellen Hazeur after reviewing Thursday’s arguments and the briefs that were submitted by attorneys.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys have accused Saints officials of aiding the church in its “pattern and practice of concealing its crimes” by helping to shape the church’s public relations response while releasing the names of clergy members who have been credibly accused of abuse.

Saints and New Orleans Pelicans owner Gayle Benson, a devout Catholic and close friend of Archbishop Gregory Aymond, has vehemently denied those claims. Benson and the team have insisted through multiple statements that senior vice president of communications Greg Bensel only offered input on how to work with the media and that his advice was to be “direct, open and fully transparent.”

Church attorney Dirk Wegmann also argued Thursday that Bensel was not working on behalf of the Saints when he offered his counsel — despite using his work email address. But he stressed that neither Benson nor Bensel should be shamed for exercising their Catholic faith and supporting their church.

Wegmann and Saints attorney James Gulotta Jr. argued that the emails should be made public if they are submitted as evidence in trial but that the discovery process is not open to the public. They stressed that they are not trying to block any of the emails from being entered into evidence, but it’s up to the court to determine that through the “normal rules of discovery.”

They claimed that releasing the emails publicly would only serve to annoy, embarrass and bring public scrutiny to high-profile officials through the release of emails that they believe are “irrelevant” to the case.

Meanwhile, attorneys for The AP and the plaintiffs suing the church argued that the Saints have not met their burden of proving that the emails should remain confidential and that the demand for public interest outweighs their right to privacy.

Plantiffs’ attorney Richard Trahant said the Saints’ claim that they had nothing to do with the composition of the list of accused clergy members released by the church was “flatly contradicted by the Saints’ emails.”

And AP attorney Mary Ellen Roy pointed out that the Saints themselves have stressed in their statements that “there is nothing to be embarrassed about” in the emails and that they are proud of their relationship with the church. “They’re trying to have it both ways, saying, ‘Everything was good, everything was fine and dandy. But let us tell you that. Don’t look for yourselves,'” Roy argued.

Trahant said there are a total of 305 documents showing correspondence involving the Saints. He presented one email exchange that has already been made public, in which Bensel asked archdiocese spokeswoman Sarah McDonald, “Is there a benefit to saying we support a victim’s right to pursue a remedy through the courts?” And McDonald replied, “I don’t think we want to say we ‘support’ victims going to the courts, but we certainly encourage them to come forward.”

Trahant also chided both the archdiocese and the Saints over their stated desires to be “transparent” while fighting to conceal the information in the emails.

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