By Brian Richards | Social Media | March 17, 2023 |
By Brian Richards | Social Media | March 17, 2023 |
Earlier this week, a Twitter user who goes by @JuliaZukowski shared a video on her page, which showed a group of college students hanging out at a bar this past weekend where one of them decided to quickly sit down in an unoccupied wheelchair. And then…well, click PLAY and see it for yourself.
The chair was left on top of the stairs because she physically had to be carried down to use the restrooms. Which are only located downstairs— julia (@juliazukowski) March 14, 2023
Yes, that unfortunately happened. The man wearing the white baseball cap who pushed the wheelchair down the stairs was identified as Mercyhurst University student and junior hockey player Carson Briere. Carson’s father is Philadelphia Flyers interim general manager Daniel Briere, who played for seventeen seasons in the NHL.
He is the guy in the white hat. His father is Daniel Briere from the @NHL pic.twitter.com/6EFvj6m4oX— julia (@juliazukowski) March 14, 2023
Julia later described her personal connection to the situation, and later identified the owner of the wheelchair as Sydney Benes, who is a double amputee relying on her wheelchair for mobility while she learns to use her prosthetics. Julia also shared links to Sydney’s GoFundMe page to help fund repairs for her wheelchair.
In the photo attached is @_legless_wonder Sydney Benes.She is a good friend and a regular at the bar I work at Sullivans Pub in Erie PA.I’m sorry I couldn’t say that earlier with risk of outing Sydney until she was ready to come public.We have updated the gofundme with more info! pic.twitter.com/kiaLPMvf2G— julia (@juliazukowski) March 16, 2023
Hi im Sydney and it was my chair that was pushed down the stairs. I’m so thankful for all of Sullivan’s help in this situation and the kind comments I see on Julia’s post. I swear I really don’t wanna keep a cent of the donated money, I’d much rather give it to those who need it. pic.twitter.com/1I5q05jdeO— Sydney (@_legless_wonder) March 16, 2023
In a statement provided to ESPN’s Michele Steele on Wednesday, Carson Briere said: “I am deeply sorry for my behavior on Saturday. There is no excuse for my actions, and I will do whatever I can to make up for this serious lack of judgment.”
His father, Daniel Briere, also issued a statement, which read: “I was shocked to see Carson’s actions in the video that was shared on social media yesterday. They are inexcusable and run completely counter to our family’s values on treating people with respect. Carson is very sorry and accepts full responsibility for his behavior.”
Carson Briere just completed his third season at Mercyhurst, appearing in 30 games. The Flyers did not respond to ESPN when asked if the Briere family would be involved in any way in replacing the damaged wheelchair.
Before joining Mercyhurst, Briere was a redshirt freshman for the Arizona State men’s hockey team during the 2019-20 season. But he didn’t appear in a game for the Sun Devils and was dismissed from the program in November 2019.
A source close to the ASU hockey program told ESPN that Briere was dismissed for “a clear violation of team rules” and “was not a culture fit” with that team. The source said Briere’s dismissal wasn’t the result of a single incident but rather stemmed from repeated behavior for which he received multiple warnings.
Not surprisingly, once this footage became public, and people learned about what Briere had done, they demanded that Mercyhurst University bring the hammer down on him and make sure that he suffers severe repercussions for his actions. It didn’t take long for the school to finally get the message, and a response was soon posted on Mercyhurst University’s Twitter page.
March 15, 2023
The day after Mercyhurst University posted that response to the video, they posted another statement to let everyone know where they stood on the matter, and what would be done. Their first statement attempted to give off vibes of “We’ve seen what happened, and we will deal with this.” This statement, on the other hand, seemed as if it was co-written by Daniel Briere himself, and practically screamed, “Why are you so mad at this young man?! He’s listening, and he’s learning!”
A statement from Mercyhurst University. pic.twitter.com/QNhwcMYVfM— Mercyhurst University (@MercyhurstU) March 15, 2023
The responses to this statement on Twitter didn’t involve prayer or turning the other cheek. Instead, they involved calling out Mercyhurst University on their bullsh-t. For starters, the statement from the school — who claimed to be “in solidarity with … all persons with disabilities who rightfully find actions like [Carson Briere’s] to be deeply offensive” — didn’t even include alternative text for anyone who might need it. It cared more about mollycoddling Briere, and letting us all know how sorry he was than it did about letting us know what was being done for Sydney Benes. It cared more about controlling people’s anger, about not being seen giving in to that dreaded ‘cancel culture,’ and making those people feel guilty about demanding that the school do something and see to it that Briere, and his teammates who stood idly by and did nothing as Briere damaged Benes’ wheelchair, suffer the consequences for their actions.
The athletics department for Mercyhurst did their part to make the school look more authoritative in how they were handling this, and tweeted their own statement.
Statement from Mercyhurst Athletics. pic.twitter.com/qkO2szewhi— Mercyhurst Lakers (@HurstAthletics) March 15, 2023
Judging from the responses, that approach failed miserably (especially since the season has just ended for their hockey players, so any players being suspended doesn’t really carry that much weight), and only made Mercyhurst look even more like they were doing the bare minimum in trying to resolve this.
Both statements from Mercyhurst were viewed as unfortunate signs that this would be yet another example of students with athletic ability being treated less like regular human beings, and more like untouchable gods for whom accepting the consequences of their horrible actions is a ridiculous and unfamiliar concept. There have been, and continue to be, far too many examples of student athletes being treated like this whenever they break the law in ways great and small. It’s also not too difficult to figure out that young male (and white) athletes who are allowed to behave like this in high school and college will go on to keep behaving like this when they go on to play sports professionally. Where they expect their coaches, their fans, and even the media to care more about their ability to win trophies and earn millions for themselves and for others than they do about the people who end up being hurt by these athletes in the process. (If those student athletes actually don’t go on to play sports professionally upon graduating college? That same bad behavior, and those same expectations to walk away scot-free from any and all consequences, will most definitely carry over to any other industry where they find employment.)
If you’re reading this, and you actually don’t see what the big deal is over some kid in college damaging a wheelchair because the owner can just have it fixed, or maybe buy another one to replace it? Please allow me to pop that particular thought bubble as I explain why this is important. Wheelchairs are not cheap. They’re not cheap to own, or to repair, and definitely not cheap to modify for the person who will be using it. A regular-degular manual wheelchair costs between $100 and $800. A motorized or electric wheelchair costs between $2,000 and $6,000, depending on the size/brand/quality of said device. Mind you, that’s how much said wheelchair is expected to cost before medical insurance is included, and also before the personal modifications are included. So when an incident occurs in which someone’s wheelchair is severely damaged after being pushed down a flight of stairs, you need to know that this is one of thousands of horror stories that disabled people have when it comes to their mobility devices.
Most of these horror stories involve disabled people having to travel by airplane, which requires their expensive, personally modified, electric or motorized wheelchairs to be taken from them by airline staff members so they can be placed safely and securely in storage with luggage elsewhere on the plane. At least, that is what’s supposed to happen with these wheelchairs. The people who rely on them for independence and personal transportation usually end up discovering, upon arriving at their destinations, that their wheelchairs have been severely damaged by the airline staff who handled them with no care or concern whatsoever. Or worse, they’ve gone missing, and have either ended up on an entirely different flight, or stolen by airline staff members who sell them on the black market. The airlines responsible for this? They will either provide their own manual wheelchairs, which are usually very uncomfortable for the people using them, or they’ll provide financial compensation to make up for the damage to or disappearance of their wheelchairs. Which barely ever covers the cost of the wheelchair itself or its modifications. Even more unfortunately for them, electric and motorized wheelchairs are not like cars. There aren’t too many places that a disabled person can turn to if and when they need to rent or buy an immediate replacement when something like this occurs. To even own an electric or motorized wheelchair in the first place requires examination and approval from a doctor, and even getting a replacement for one that is missing or damaged can take months. Months!
You would think that these airlines, who just recently were begging for government assistance during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, would do a lot more to be thoughtful and compassionate to their customers, and do everything possible to prevent incidents like this from happening to disabled people who rely on them for travel? But like too many other corporations, they’ve now gone back to business as usual, and have resumed doing whatever they want, however they want, while believing that their employees and the general public need them a lot more than they need us.
The only good news to come so far from Carson Briere acting like a f-ckboy towards Sydney Benes? The GoFundMe that was organized to assist Benes in having her wheelchair replaced was a success, as it reached its goal with Benes promising that any extra funds would go towards helping other disabled people who are in need of financial assistance.
I would like to clarify that I’m using the GoFundMe donations to help fix my chair but all the rest is going to the disabled community and to people who really need the help ❤️— Sydney (@_legless_wonder) March 16, 2023
For now, it remains unknown as to whether or not Carson Briere and his teammates will face any additional punishment from Mercyhurst University. As for disabled people, and their concerns about having to deal with both themselves and their mobiity devices being treated with disrespect by able-bodied members of society like Carson Briere? There are organizations who still need to be harshly reminded that wheelchair ramps are both necessary and legally required to provide full accessibility wherever it is needed, whether it’s at the Tony Awards or at venues for public election debates. Disabled people still have more horror stories about how able-bodied people treat them and their mobility devices, such as when they grab onto their wheelchairs to move them without their permission. (If you see a disabled person in a wheelchair that either has spikes on its push handles, or no push handles at all, it’s to avoid situations like that.) Some people are still reluctant and unwilling to believe or care that the long-term effects of COVID-19 can possibly result in severe physical debilitation that will prevent them from being as physically active as they were before testing positive and dealing with symptoms. So we clearly have a very long way to go before disability in all of its forms is taken as seriously as it needs and deserves to be.