Touching All the Bases

Know Who Really Needs to Chill? Anyone Who Has Grown Cynical of the ALS Ice-Bucket Challenge

Don't know about you, but I never knew ice-cold water could make you feel so good.

Oh, we all know those ice-ice-baby heroes who glue on a Speedo and take that polar bear plunge at Old Orchard Beach in November, then can't stop telling you through their vibrating teeth just you how invigorating it was.

Never bought it. I've always figured it to be a lie the brain tells itself to counter the pending hypothermia.

Now, two weeks into the Ice Bucket Challenge, I know better. I know that if icy water is utilized in this particular way and for this worthy cause, the result is wonderful, fulfilling warmth.

If you're somehow unaware of the phenomenon, I've got to ask: How is life off the grid working out? Making progress on the manifesto, are you?

Otherwise, if you're someone with a Facebook account or any familiarity whatsoever with the concept of a hashtag, you're no doubt well aware of the Ice Bucket Challenge.

The condensed explanation for my readers of the hermit demographic: It's a social media dare in which you get nominated to dump a bucket of ice water on your head, with accompanying video proof. If you don't complete it within 24 hours, you must donate $100 to raise money to research ALS, a neurodegenerative disorder commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.

Former Boston College baseball captain Peter Frates, who was diagnosed with ALS two years ago, is a force behind and a face of the challenge. Sometimes it seems like everyone in greater Boston knows the guy. Those of us who don't feel like we do.

If you fulfill the challenge, you nominate more people (the standard number is three) while still making a donation of a smaller denomination.

That's it. Simple concept. Super cause. But there is a small question that remains, one that has become more prominent and gained voice as the Challenge has blown up locally, and then nationally:

Why would anyone ever choose to be cynical about this? I've heard a few people say -- or read their bitch-and-run comments on Facebook -- that you should forget about the ice and just donate the money.

That sentiment is fine in theory, but it's idealistic and unrealistic. Does anyone believe human nature really works that way? Altruism often needs a trigger. The Challenge, in all of its irresistible humor and inclusive silliness, has exponentially raised awareness and funds.

People want to be a part of this for reasons meaningful and mirthful. Who doesn't want to see a buddy, or hell, your wife, dump a bucket of ice on their head?

Even if not everyone who says they will donate actually follows through, it's enough to make an extraordinary difference. If you want to put an actual dollar sign on it, well, that's why Darren Rovell exists. From yesterday afternoon:

And then, an hour later:

Five-point-seven million bucks. That should be enough to leave any cynic shamefully wallowing in their own silence. But the backlash brigade remains out there. A recent Slate piece titled "Take The No Ice Bucket Challenge" offered the site's usual calculatedly contrarian spin, explaining the concept before pointing out that the Challenge didn't necessarily begin with Frates:

That makes for a nice origin story, but itís not quite accurate. Matt Lauerís challenge, along with that of Martha Stewart and many others, predated Fratesís involvement and had nothing to do with ALS. Rather, it came from a dare that was circulating among a group of pro athletes, including golfer Greg Norman and motorcycle racer Jeremy McGrath. Those who declined the ice bath were compelled to give $100 to charity of the challengerís choice.

OK then. Interesting info. Believable back story. But this? I cannot believe this, from the same piece:

[The] charity part remains a postscript. Remember, the way the challenge is set up, the ice-drenching is the alternative to contributing actual money.

That's disingenuous at best, and it pisses me off. Since I became aware of the phenomenon roughly two weeks ago, I'm yet to hear anyone suggest you have to shell out $100 if you don't do it but nothing if you do. Virtually everyone vows to make a donation of at least $10. One of the friends I challenged donated $50 for every person he challenged who stepped up, and that's on top of $50 for icing himself.

Maybe I'm naive, from what I've seen, such generosity in spirit and cash has been the norm during this thing. So what if there's some narcissism involved if it is delivered with a check? It's why I don't have a beef with people who pat their backs after donating time and money to charity. Ultimately, they're doing a good thing. I could give less than a damn about their motivations.

Raising money and awareness in a relentless effort to find a cure for this horrific disease is of course the fundamental purpose of the Ice Bucket Challenge. But there is so much ancillary goodness about this that also should be acknowledged -- or should I say, not so cynically dismissed.

It's unifying and inclusive, organic and authentic. It's social media at its most worthwhile, reminding us that we're all part of the same community no matter where we call home.

It spawns creativity and good humor for a good cause.

It reminds us that charity is so often an unsung part of a professional athlete's regimen.

It reminds us that Bill Belichick will charmingly play along from time to time, whether it's expressing his appreciation for costumes and candy or taking the brunt of a team-wide post-practice dousing.

Enjoying the frivolity of the challenge is not mutually exclusive from acknowledging the gravity of the disease. As a parent, it's a teaching opportunity in so many ways -- to explain the value and importance of charity ... offer an example of the potent possibilities when people share in a cause ... remember to appreciate your good health and fortune.

It's a reminder to laugh, even -- hell, especially -- if it's at yourself. My kids, ages 10 and 8, were gleefully anticipating when I would get challenged. Saturday night, my cousin Mark called me out. Sunday morning, at 6:45 a.m., my son woke me up with this: "Get up. You're gonna need to go get some ice."

I got some ice, and I was gonna need a bigger bucket, too -- a large grass-seed vat, as it turned out, which led my daughter to helpfully suggest that the random remaining seeds might help grow grass where there once was hair. She's a clever one. Must get it from her mom.

The most fulfilling part of my participation came immediately after I dumped the freezing seed-ice on my head. (Pro tip: Make sure the ice has broken up before pouring. I got hit with a block of cubes that felt like it had fallen directly from the North Pole.) It was hearing my kids' uncontrolled laughter, especially from my son, who when truly amused howls like Snoopy from The Peanuts.

Now, I'm not sure they needed to point while they laughed, but so it goes as a dad.

The Ice Bucket Challenge is the best kind of phenomenon -- the unifying kind. And the cause? It is never far from mind, no matter how many among us choose to presume the worst of motivations.

I can give you 5.7 million reasons -- and counting -- why they are so wrong.

You should probably stop trying to throw cold water on this, cynics. Our reasons for doing it are so much more beneficial than yours.

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