WASHINGTON — Former New Orleans Saints defensive back Steve Gleason received the Congressional Gold Medal — the highest civilian honor bestowed by Congress — for his work as an advocate for people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

“This award represents the people of the United States of America and is a sublime honor for me,” Gleason, who no longer can speak on his own, said through a computer-generated voice. “It represents some joy, some encouragement and some triumphs for the tens of thousands of families living with ALS and others living with disabilities or experiencing anguish, tragedy or adversity.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi opened the ceremony. “We have come to honor a true American hero … who has transformed the lives of so many people living with ALS,” Pelosi said. “You bring pride to our nation.”

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, Saints owner Gayle Benson, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue were among those in attendance.