Steve Gleason: A Rare Celebrity Doing Good by Talking About His Illness
People who know me know that I am no fan of either football or celebrity spokespeople for illnesses they have had. In that light, this blog is bound to surprise those folks.
You have probably noticed that when a famous people get sick, they often become spokespeople for the illness they have. In my memory, the first person to do this was Betty Ford, who spoke publicly about her breast cancer in 1974. (Okay, I’m old enough to remember that.) That act of courage was followed by Betty Rollin, a prominent TV reporter, who published First You Cry about her breast cancer experience in 1976.
Since then, it’s been pretty much downhill. Some celebrities lend their names to organizations raising awareness. In breast cancer, that is so not helpful: everyone is aware
of breast cancer already unless they live under a rock. Other celebrities give (bad) medical advice based on their experience. Sheryl Crow, for instance, told the world that her breast cancer was the result of drinking water out of plastic bottle that had been warming in the sun on the back seat of her car. That email travelled the world for years — coming back
like a bad penny. For all I know, it still circulates. It’s not a good thing to drink water out of plastic bottles, but neither does it give you breast cancer. Or Robin Roberts, whose breast cancer was missed by a screening mammogram, who nevertheless urged women to get mammograms.
As for football, I consider it a game of unnecessary violence, played by some people who get in trouble for
being violent in society, often towards women.
So when ALS folks (called PALS — People with ALS) got excited because Steve Gleason, a famous retired football player who had been safety with the New Orleans Saints, started speaking out about his ALS, I was more cautious because the breast cancer experience with famous people had been, to my mind, less than helpful.
Steve Gleason and Team Gleason — folks are
working with and supporting Steve and his family through his ALS — have persuaded me out of my caution. In fact, I’m thrilled by what they are doing.
Here’s the deal. Team Gleason (www.teamgleason.org) has put together an ALS PSA (public service announcement) that will air during the Superbowl in New Orleans, where Steve and his family live. Having seen the ad on line, I hope it airs many times after the game is over. In case you won’t or didn’t watch the Superbowl, or missed the ad, you can watch it here.
What’s important about this ad from my perspective is that there is no attempt to sugar coat anything, or make people feel good about ALS. This is not an illness that is a “gift” and don’t let anyone suggest to you that is. This is ALS awareness at its best and I hope millions of people see it.
If you are on Facebook, post the ad there. Or forward this blog and encourage people to watch the ad. People need to see this.
Thanks to you Steve and Team Gleason. Lou Gehrig can finally be retired. You are giving hope to everyone affected by ALS, by raising awareness of the existence and realities of horrible but little known disease, and by calling on people to act. That is no mean trick.
© Barbara A. Brenner 2013