TAMPA — As viral video phenomenons go, if it isn't the coolest, it's certainly the coldest.
Over and over the past few months, across the country, the same simple sequence has unfolded: Famous person nervously addresses a camera, then has a bucket of ice water poured over his or her head. The person gasps, shivers a bit, collects himself and challenges three people to do the same in the next 24 hours or donate money to charity.
It's all over social media, all in the name of raising money for charity, most recently focusing on fundraising for research for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), an uncurable neurodegenerative disease.
ALS is better known as Lou Gehrig's disease, for the Hall of Fame baseball player who died from it in 1941, and athletes are helping to raise awareness of the disease, which affects about 30,000 Americans, including about 1,500 in Florida.
"It's for a great cause," said Bucs coach Lovie Smith, part of a chain of at least seven Bucs ice baths Thursday, his a tribute to O.J. Brigance, a linebacker who played for him with the Rams in 2001-02 and was diagnosed with ALS in 2007. "Anything you can do with research to help get rid of a deadly disease is good. You want to keep it going, bringing attention to something that needs attention."
Since July 29, the video campaign had helped raise more than $7 million nationally as of Wednesday, compared to $1.12 million during the same period last year, the ALS Association said. The Florida chapter, based in Tampa, said it has received $52,826 since July 22, up from $21,368 in the same time frame a year ago.
Who else has done the ice bucket challenge? NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Jon Gruden, several Lightning players, Rays pitcher Grant Balfour and even Rays mascot Raymond, among many others.
The Bucs' three kicking specialists — punter Michael Koenen and kickers Connor Barth and Pat Murray — took simultaneous ice baths Tuesday and challenged Smith, who got his Thursday and challenged Bucs vice president Bryan Glazer.
"It's been great. It needs to get the exposure it deserves," said a soaked Glazer, who then challenged former Bucs star Ronde Barber and rookie receiver Mike Evans.
After practice, Bucs stars Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David and Evans had ice-bucket treatments, with more challenges issued to more teammates, showing how quickly the movement can spread.
It started in June with participants, including pro golfers, doing it for the charity of their choice. ALS became a focus last month when former Boston College baseball player Pete Frates, 29, and fellow ALS sufferer Pat Quinn liked the idea and posted their challenges online. A Boston TV station ran a piece on a Bruins hockey player accepting the challenge, and then it took off. Even Patriots coach Bill Belichick got doused.
"They're doing it on live TV, and we're like 'What is going on?' " said Pete's father, John Frates. "(Facebook co-founder Mark) Zuckerberg just did it. Ethel Kennedy (86-year-old widow of Robert Kennedy), who is like royalty here. They're all amazing."
John Frates loves the awareness aspect of the ice-bucket videos but said the millions of dollars raised could be a game-changer in ALS research. He said if Gehrig had gotten got ALS today, the only difference from 75 years ago is he would have a nicer wheelchair.
"It's been under a rock all too long," Frates said. "The doctors say they tell 99 percent of patients, 'Get your affairs in order. You're going to be passing in three, five years.' As a family, we said 'This is unacceptable.' "
His son has thrown out many ceremonial first pitches at baseball games, Frates said, but as much as that helps raise awareness, by the time a game is over, fans have forgotten about the cause. For whatever reason, people have connected with the ice bucket challenge in a way they have with few awareness efforts.
"It's our pink ribbon," Frates said, referring to the symbol for breast cancer awareness. "It's exploding, the awareness and the fundraising coming at the same time. … Now they can attract the competent, successful researchers, get them away from hair regrowth and erectile dysfunction, and put them to work here."
To learn more about ALS or to make a donation, visit alsa.org and or webfl.alsa.org. Learn more about Frates and read his blog at petefrates.com.
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected]ay.com and (813) 226-3346. Follow @gregauman.