Why It Matters That Jimmy Fallon Took the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

What do Mark Zuckerberg, Ethel Kennedy, Matt Lauer, Justin Timberlake, and Martha Stewart all have in common?

Not much, aside from the fact that they’ve all participated in the recent viral phenomenon that is sweeping the nation (and the world): the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

The challenge began in Massachusetts with former Boston College baseball player Pete Frates, who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) — also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease — in 2012. According to the ALS Association, ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease affecting nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. This damage causes muscle weakness, eventual loss of limb usage, along with difficulties speaking, breathing, and swallowing.

Currently, there is only one drug approved by U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat this disease, and this drug only extends victims’ lifespans by a modest two to three months. “Consequently,” writes the ALS Association, “ALS is 100 percent fatal.”

Frates, hoping to raise awareness and donations towards finding a cure for the disease, began the ice bucket challenge at the tail end of July. The challenge asks each contender to pour a bucket of ice water over his or her head if nominated. If they should choose not to accept their mission within 24 hours, the challengee can make a donation to fight ALS instead. The challenge swiftly rose in prominence, circulating the Internet under the hashtag #ALSIceBucketChallenge.

The challenge, while noble in theory, has raised some concerns. According to Time reporter Jacob Davidson, whose father passed away from ALS eighteen years ago, “Most of its participants, including Kennedy and Today’s Matt Lauer, didn’t mention the disease at all,” he wrote. “The chance to jump on the latest trend was an end in itself. In fact, the challenge’s structure seems almost inherently offensive to those touched by ALS.”

Davidson goes on to point out that the challenge almost seems to make the donation aspect a punishment. “The viral nature of this fad appears centered around an aversion to giving to money … The challenge even seems to be suggesting that being cold, wet, and uncomfortable is preferable to fighting ALS,” he writes.

In spite of this movement’s acknowledged flaws, it has undoubtedly raised awareness, as well as donations towards fighting ALS. According to NBC News, the ALS Association collected a whopping $1.35 million in donations from July 29 to August 11. During this same time period in 2013, donations maxed out at $22,000.

Additionally, ALS Association spokeswoman Carrie Munk tells NBC, “The monetary contributions are amazing but there is so much value to the visibility that this is generating. It’s unquantifiable.”

This visibility is due in part to the sheerly viral nature of the stunt — but has also arrived with the aid of many high-profile celebrities who’ve taken the plunge. According to USA Today, big tech names such like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Dick Costolo have taken part. The L.A. Times reports that hard-to-miss entertainment stars such as Jimmy Fallon, Justin Timberlake, Martha Stewart, and Elizabeth Banks have also participated, while Sports Illustrated maintains a running list of athletes from the New York Jets to Alex Ovechkin who’ve soaked themselves for the cause.

You’ve probably seen a few ice bucket challenges yourself — or perhaps even participated! To find out more about Peter Frates and his story, visit his website or the Team Frate Train Facebook page. To learn more about ALS, visit the ALS Association website. To donate directly to the cause, click here.

More from Life Cheat Sheet: