Have you ever seen anyone autograph something—with their eyes? An extraordinary result of modern technology is giving collectors and fans the chance to own a truly unique piece of memorabilia and help those suffering from ALS.
Answer ALS has teamed with Microsoft, marketing agency KBS and former NFL defensive back Steve Gleason, who has been battling the disease for three years, for a special auction of signed memorabilia. Included is a jersey autographed by Gleason in the only way he can.
Gleason, a standout special teams player for the New Orleans Saints, famously blocked a punt in the first game played at the Superdome following Hurricane Katrina. Gleason is confined to a wheelchair and is unable to use his arms or legs.
Microsoft built a piece of equipment that links eye-tracking hardware to a robotic arm. Gleason can control it with his eyes, the only part of his body he can still move. Using a marker attached to the equipment, Gleason controlled the pen to sign his name to a white jersey bearing his name and number.
Gleason’s story and the technology being used are featured in a short video that is the focus of a fundraising campaign that launched this week. The video shows Gleason moving the pen with his eyes to sign the back of the jersey.
The Gleason jersey, along with the first of numerous items to come, are now up for bid. It’s the first robotic jersey Gleason signed. Other memorabilia autographed by current and former NFL players including Peyton and Eli Manning, Drew Brees, Joe Montana, Dwight Clark, Odell Beckham Jr., Troy Aikman and Matt Ryan, will be added in the coming weeks. All proceeds from the sales on the NFL’s auction website will benefit Answer ALS.
“The point of the campaign is to show what Steve is able to do even though he only has the use of his eyes, and what his friends are going to do to help him,” Deb Maltzman, creative director at KBS told Campaign Live. “We wanted to use his video as a way to launch this auction and say, ‘Hey, I just signed a jersey with my eyes. What are you guys going to donate to change the game for ALS?’”
Gleason appeared in a Microsoft Super Bowl ad in 2014 and since then, the company has been working with his non-profit organization on technology to assist ALS patients. Microsoft’s Surface Pro is among the tools Gleason uses to communicate and control his wheelchair. From that came the development of the eye-tracking technology. Earlier this month, the video was filmed inside the stadium where Gleason’s most famous moment occurred.
The play enabled the Falcons to win and gave the city an emotional lift that helped propel its recovery following the deadly hurricane. Known now as “The Rebirth”, the play is captured on an eight-foot tall bronze statue that sits in front of the Superdome.
“The city was broken, and he changed that with determination and talent and maybe some luck,” said Angela Denise of KBS. “I think that’s what’s going on here, too. He’s facing something so grim, but he won’t give up, and he’s got a heart like a lion, and he won’t be stopped.”
The auction will continue indefinitely with Gleason’s signed memorabilia and items from other players. Answer ALS hopes to raise $1 million through the ongoing series of auctions.