By the Staff of NYSportsJournalism.com
December 17, 2014: On July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig, suffering from the symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), stood at home plate in Yankee Stadium between games of a doubleheader with the then Washington Senators in front of family, current and former teammates and more than 61,800 fans and gave a speech in which he called himself "the luckiest man on the face of this earth."
The New York Yankees' first baseman died less than two years later, at the age of 37, from what has since to become known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
To mark the 75th anniversary of Gehrig's iconic speech, which gave a face and a name to the disease, the ALS Assn., based in Washington, D.C., with a national network of 38 chapters, launched in May a multi-platform campaign to coincide with ALS Awareness Month. The PSA-anchored effort included TV, print, Internet, social media and other activations aimed to raise awareness of and generation donations for ALS.
Following that, Yankees captain and shortstop Derek Jeter joined first basemen from every team — including Joe Mauer, Jose Abreu, Paul Goldschmidt, Adrian Gonzalez, Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols and Mark Teixeira — in a spot in which they are seen reading from Gehrig's s "Luckiest Man" speech, interspersed with an historical film of Gehrig himself giving the speech.
MLB celebrated the day on July 4 with events with every home team, and the Yankees held special activations to raise awareness for ALS.
In fact, MLB has been at the forefront of the "Fight to Cure ALS" for many years, working with the ALS Assn., Project ALS, ALS Therapy Development Institute, ALS Society of Canada and the Muscular Dystrophy Assn. under the banner, "4 ALS."
MLB also honored the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s famed “Luckiest Man” speech by collectively awarding $300,000 to four organizations with which it works that are dedicated to finding treatments and cures for ALS.
But the biggest ALS awareness effort was yet to come when over the summer people worldwide took the Ice Bucket Challenge and challenged others to do the same.
The movement is credited to Pete Frates a 29-year-old former captain of Boston College baseball, who was diagnosed with ALS in March 2012, and his family; and Pat Quinn, a friend who also suffers from ALS. According to the ALS Assn., since July 29 it has received more than $115 million in donations (to date) in the U.S. as a direct result of the Ice Bucket Challenge, with estimates from news reports that $500 million ha been raised worldwide for ALS research.
"It has been a creative, galvanizing effort, and we're grateful for its impact on the ALS community," MLB commissioner Bud Selig said at the World Series in October, during which Game 2 was dedicated to raising awareness for ALS research. "I want all of you to know that because of his leadership and his remarkable courage that baseball is playing tonight's game in honor of Pete and all of those brave ones who fight ALS."
According to The New York Times, people shared more than 1.2 million Ice Bucket Challenge videos on Facebook between June 1-Aug. 13 and mentioned the phenomenon more than 2.2 million times on Twitter between July 29-Aug. 17.
Time Magazine nominated Pete & Pat Quinn for this 2014 "Person of The Year" award "based on the amazing contribution they have made to humanity by starting the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge."
For ALS Assn. and those with the disease — and those not yet diagnosed — the fight goes on.
It is estimated that 30,000 people in the U.S. have ALS at any given time, with approximately 5,600 new cases diagnosed annually. More than 5,000 people die from the disease each year.
The ALS Assn. also said that U.S. veterans have almost 60% more risk of contracting ALS than civilians, especially those who serve overseas, information based on research at Harvard University that dates back to 1910.
“While Gehrig was the first face of ALS, this ALS Awareness Month we want to not only honor his legacy but also recognize the thousands of individuals [who] are currently impacted by the disease," Jane Gilbert, president and CEO for the ALS Assn., said in a statement. "Raising awareness is a crucial step in generating support for our efforts to find treatments and a cure for today’s faces of ALS.
"Sadly," said Gilbert, "the outcome of a diagnosis of ALS today isn't much different than it was in Gehrig's time. There still is no cure."
Fighting the good fight to end ALS has been tiring and challenging but continues at a greater pace than ever.
In December, the ALS Assn. and Muscular Dystrophy Assn. joined forces to fund a research project aimed at finding a potential therapy for ALS. According to the ALS Assn., the $240,000 award to molecular biologist James Shorter, Ph.D., of Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania "was made possible in part by MLB’s commitment to ALS research and this summer’s viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
ALS Campaign Honors 75th Anniversary Of Gehrig Speech, Raise Awareness
MLB, Jeter, First Baseman Join With ALS Groups To Honor Gehrig
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