Maybe charity critics deserve ice bucket dump

by | Sep 7, 2014 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

If you needed proof that the world has grown too cynical, look no further than the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

The idea, essentially, was to challenge people to donate $100 to the ALS Association — or have a bucket of ice water dumped on their heads.

It caught on wildly and virally — as video-based trends often do. Soon Facebook pages were full of ice-dumping clips, and celebrities from LeBron James to George W. Bush to Oprah Winfrey joined the splashees.

Despite the fact that, technically, those getting dumped on were avoiding giving, the money came pouring in. Those who challenged, and even many of those who soaked themselves, helped push donations skyward. At last count, the tally was more than $100 million.

Now, for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, $100 million isn’t good, it’s unimaginable. The illness struggles to get attention. And the number of those afflicted (30,000 in the U.S.) keeps it from ever raising funds on the level of, say, breast cancer or heart disease, which consistently dwarf ALS contributions.

So you’d think a campaign that gave this terrible disease a one-time shot in the financial arm would be celebrated.

Hold your bucket.

A wet T-shirt contest? Seriously?

In a world where everybody has to comment on everything — and being the contrarian is a way to stand out — it wasn’t long before the ice bucket challenge was itself getting dumped on.

A British newspaper, the Guardian, slammed it as “a celebrity wet T-shirt competition.” The rival Daily Telegraph called it a “contest for armchair clicktivists.” The women’s website Jezebel complained “there is absolutely no real information being put forth.” The current affairs website Slate lamented participants “are probably spending more money on bagged ice than on ALS research.”

Celebrity endorser Mike Rowe said he wouldn’t do it because too much was being raised for one cause. (“More money for ALS means less money for heart disease,” he wrote on Facebook.) Actress Pamela Anderson refused, claiming on Facebook animals are used in ALS research. Some Catholic churches instructed members not to give because the ALS Association engaged in stem cell research. And global activists said the bucket dumping made light of the world’s water shortage.

Even Al Jazeera got in on the criticism: “The ice bucket frenzy is simply another testament to the institutionalized superficiality that constitutes neoliberal society.”


May I point out that, for all their well-chosen words, these people are complaining about RAISING MONEY FOR CHARITY! Really? For a neurological disease that can strike any adult at any age and usually kills them within five years, after rendering the body a lifeless husk?

Fighting that is what you get angry about?

Answering the naysayers point by point

Let’s address these criticisms. It mocks the global water shortage? Please. Do we say that about every sideline Gatorade bucket?

Not enough awareness raised? Wikipedia’s article on ALS recently saw 430,000 views on a single day. Its average before the ice bucket challenge was 8,000.

Too much money for one cause? Increase your total giving. Favoring one disease over another? Where’s the protest when the NFL goes pink for breast cancer month?

The act doesn’t connect with the disease? Why do a 5K for cerebral palsy? Or a telethon for the deaf? Or a wine auction for anything? These are just fund-raising ideas, for heavens sake! The point is to raise money and awareness. And by any stretch, any measure, the ice bucket challenge has done that for ALS.

As for critics like a blog called Humanosphere, which claims to cover global health and labels ALS “an obscure disease that affects a small portion of people,” I say how dare you! As someone who has sat with too many people dying from this affliction, I’d challenge these pompous critics to tell the victims — or their families — that there aren’t enough of them to warrant this much money. These are people living without much hope because, as of now, there is no cure. Isn’t that the purpose of raising funds for research?

Do you know how many Americans died of HIV in 2011, the most recent year of data from the CDC? About 1,000 more than died of motor neuron diseases (mainly ALS). Yet would anyone dare criticize AIDS research as too much money spent on too few fatalities?

In my view, all these attacks are just as much about the critics feeling righteous as the celebrities they lampoon. And it’s all a waste of breath. If a charitable effort can shake $100 million from the trees, and it’s not lying or hurting anyone, all we should say is, “Congratulations. Use it well.”

You wonder why that’s so hard.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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