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Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014

Amy Donaldson: Critics of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge need to chill

By Amy Donaldson, Deseret News

Published: Wed, Aug. 20 2:35 p.m. MDT

Rob Riggle, Horatio Sanz, Steve Higgins, The Roots, & Jimmy Fallon Take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

The first time I saw the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was when a friend posted a clip of Jimmy Fallon dousing himself during his show.

I loved it so much I looked up the Justin Timberlake and Gov. Chris Christie videos to see how they’d challenged Fallon to dump a bucket of ice water over his head to raise awareness about and funding for the ALS Association.

I thought it was entertaining.

But after I started seeing dozens of new videos every day featuring everyone from politicians to professional athletes taking — and passing along — the challenge, I decided it was genius.

I love the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

I love watching the videos. I love reading the stories. And I loved taking my turn accepting and passing along the challenge to think about those who suffer from the horrific, progressive neurodegenerative disease, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

What I noticed just recently, however, is that not everyone loves the challenge.

While some people are just tired of it, others actually argue in columns and blogs that it’s not worth supporting.

One woman who hated the idea said she didn’t understand why people who wanted to support the ALS Association didn’t just donate. Why did they need to act silly? Why did they need to brag about caring?

Having just participated in the challenge on Friday (thanks to BYU beat writer Jeff Call), I decided to explain why it’s worth supporting the challenge (with video proof) and the cause.

First, raising money is hard. The beauty of the Ice Bucket Challenge is that it’s ridiculously easy.

While fundraising has to be on the list of Top 10 things to avoid, doing something for someone else gives us the kind of joy that is uplifting and restorative. It’s part of the reason we buy and sell all kinds of stuff we really don’t need so that someone else’s children can experience a band trip or basketball tournament.

We swim, bike and run hundreds of miles because the money we raise doing so might help researchers rid the world of diseases that terrorize us.

Like it or not, money is how diseases are cured. It’s how medications are developed. It’s how lives are improved.

So as dreadful as fundraising is, most of us have extensive experience with it.

It is fascinating to me that the ease of this fundraiser is what critics don’t like. I’m not saying those of us who dump cold water over our heads deserve anything for our efforts. But don’t hate us for having some fun while trying to support those who are suffering.

Some critics said that many of the videos were more about self-promotion than they were about ALS awareness. They pointed out that some people failed to even mention the association for which they are trying to raise money.

I’ve seen a few of those, and frankly, I believe that even if they’re flawed, they support what the challenge has become — a viral sensation.

Consider that the ALS Association said it received more than $13 million since July 29 as compared with $1.7 million during the same period last year. An article in the New York Times said that more than 1.2 million people shared videos on Facebook from June 1 to Aug. 13, while it’s been mentioned more than 2.2 million times on Twitter.

And whether you see it as a goofy sensation, a craze or a fad, you should understand it was actually instigated by a 29-year-old Boston man, who was diagnosed with ALS at 27.

ALS has made it impossible for Pete Frates, once a baseball player at Boston College, to walk or talk. He may rely on a feeding tube to live, but he’s still fighting the disease that will eventually kill him any way he can.

And when a friend introduced him to the Ice Bucket Challenge, which had been used in the past by different charities for this very same purpose, he saw an opportunity.

Frates may have inadvertently made a move that led to the challenge going viral. In addition to challenging friends and family, the people most of us call on when we’re trying to raise money, he called out famous people like New England quarterback Tom Brady and "The Howard Stern Show."

We know what happened after that.

Enough famous people took the challenge and did what Fallon did. They not only talked about ALS, they made donations. They encouraged others to do so.

In doing so, they immunized the challenge against critics who say those who fail to mention ALS in their videos are a problem. As I explained to the woman who criticized the challenge on Monday, it’s OK if you can’t or won’t donate. Simply participating keeps the effort — and the conversation — alive. And one of the unintentional benefits of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is that it has all of us thinking about the causes we love. It has us all talking about how to raise money and why it’s important to donate, even just a little, to someone or something.

It’s created an atmosphere of fun on social media that frankly is much needed right now. Life is full of difficult days. It’s riddled with painful challenges. So why not laugh when you can?

The fact that it’s a blast for those participating, in my opinion, is one of the challenge’s most beautiful components. But it’s also created the kind of positive energy that has impacts far beyond what anyone intended. It has people talking about other charities that need support, other causes that could use a little cash. In fact, I donated to a few mentioned in videos, and know of others who did the same.

The videos have been wildly entertaining. I thought I would be bored after weeks of watching about a dozen a day. Instead, I find them energizing and uplifting.

We’ve been moved by some of the dedications, and we’ve cried with laughter at some of the failures. We’ve been impressed with creativity and generosity.

And I love that Oprah and Peyton Manning can be outdone by my neighbors.

A few of the criticisms are, in my opinion, ridiculously negative. One points out that other people won’t give to other causes and intimates that ALS might not deserve all of this time and funding. Some have suggested that it’s wasting water to dump a bucket over your head.

And most critics point out that awareness is still elusive, even after all the viral videos. That criticism is maybe the most ridiculous.

Talk to anyone in charge of any charity and they’ll tell you they’d love to have a summer in the spotlight like ALS has enjoyed.

Even if you don’t know any more facts about ALS today than you did yesterday, you know the name. This is how awareness is born. It’s how an education can begin.

And while one writer pointed out that the fatal flaw in the challenge is that it asks people to donate OR dump ice water over their heads, consider that most people have committed to doing both. The donations reported by the ALS association are evidence of the effectiveness of the challenge.

But over and above the money raised, I love that we’re sharing something lovely. Maybe it’s a few belly laughs. Maybe it’s more significant.

Those who suffer from ALS have said that just having the country take a moment to consider their suffering, to support their fight feels pretty good. You don’t have to love the challenge anymore than you love it when high school students come to your door hoping to sell you discount cards or cookie dough.

But it’s also not necessary to argue that something that’s done so much good be abandoned. My suggestion to the naysayers is take the challenge and put your own twist on it. And frankly, I hope we find even more silly, humorous and hilarious ways to raise money for worthy causes in the future.

Twitter: adonsports

EMAIL: adonaldson@deseretnews.com

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1. ezrider
salt lake, UT,
Aug. 20, 2014

Great article Amy. As one who has ALS, I appreciate all of the buzz that this campaign has created, and I'm so grateful that even some of the people who take the challenge are donating, because it's raised far far more money and awareness than the old traditional methods ever did. Yes, if everyone donated, even a little, the results would be unbelievable, but the research and therapies that these donations will enable may just save some lives, including mine. Great article!

2. Noodlekaboodle
Poplar Grove, UT,
Aug. 20, 2014

The one place I disagree is people who are making these videos and make no mention of donating, and don't provide a link. The whole point of this is to raise money for ALS research. So put the link up, say the website name in your video or do both. Just dumping ice water on your head and posting a video to get likes..........just put the website link on the post please.

3. RichardB
Murray, UT,
Aug. 20, 2014

One of the best marketing strategies I've seen in years. It's raising money, and it's entertaining.

4. LMBEAN
SANDY, UT,
Aug. 20, 2014

Anyone has seen the spot that ESPN did on the guy who all the bucket challenges originated from.......they would never question why the above article needed to be written. It was an amazing and impressive story, and reminded me, (an athlete) how blessed I am. He had his whole life in front of him, and the disease basically took it all away, at a young age. People need to get a life, and stop criticizing good things that happen in life. This is one of them! Thanks for the story...

5. Christopher B
Ogden, UT,
Aug. 20, 2014

It's too bad Barack declined the invitation. If he had, the attention would have exploded ten times more than it already has. Come on Obama, it would take 5 minutes.