By the Staff of NYSportsJournalism
February 5, 2015: Countless people are working endless hours and making unyielding sacrifices to find a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, widely known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. The ALS Association has been front-and-center of this fight since 1985, but this past year garnered national and international attention with two campaigns — the 75th Anniversary of Gehrig's "Luckiest Man Alive" speech and the Ice Bucket Challenge — that raised awareness and funds worldwide.
For this and other reasons, the ALS Association has been named as the Grand Sports Marketer of the Year based on votes cast among the more than 50,000 readers of NYSportsJournalism.
The ALS Assn., based in Washington DC, with 38 local chapters nationwide, now joins an esteemed list of Grand Sports Marketers of the Year that includes BBVA Group (2010), Mission AthleteCare (2012) and Stand Up to Cancer with MLB and MasterCard (2013).
On July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig, suffering from the symptoms of 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 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. 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 (since retired) joined first basemen from every team 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 with events with every home team, and the Yankees held special activations to raise awareness for ALS. 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 dedicated to finding treatments and cures for ALS.
But the biggest ALS awareness effort came over the summer when people worldwide took the Ice Bucket Challenge.
The effort's origin is credited to Pete Frates, a 29-year-old former captain of the Boston College baseball team, 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 mor than $115 million in donations as a direct result of the Ice Bucket Challenge, with estimates from news reports that it has raised $500 million worldwide for ALS research.
"It has been a creative, galvanizing effort, and we're grateful for its impact on the ALS community," Bud Selig, then commissioner of MLB, 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 videos on Facebook between June 1 and August 13 and mentioned the phenomenon more than 2.2 million times on Twitter between July 29 and August 17.
Time Magazine nominated Pete & Pat Quinn for the 2014 "Person of The Year" award "based on the amazing contribution they have made to humanity by starting the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge."
Fighting the good fight to end ALS has been tiring and challenging but continues at a greater pace than ever.
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.
"Sadly, the outcome of a diagnosis of ALS today isn't much different than it was in Gehrig's time," Jane Gilbert, president and CEO for the ALS Assn. "There still is no cure. Raising awareness is a crucial step in generating support for our efforts to find treatments and a cure for today’s faces of ALS."
NYSportsJournalism would like to congratulate the other nine companies and people who were named Sports Marketers of the Year for 2014 (in alphabetical order):
BBDO Worldwide, BitPay, Daily Fantasy Sports (category), Epix, Foot Locker, LeBron James, Levi Strauss & Co., Under Armour and Upper Deck.
Congratulations again to all ten for the work and achievements you have had in 2014, and to the achievements to come in 2015 and beyond.
For more information on the ALS Association, contact:
1275 K Street NW, Suite 250
Washington, DC 20005
MLB, Jeter, First Baseman Join With ALS Groups To Honor Gehrig