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Over the past couple of days a lot has been written about Jonathan Bredin winning the ANZPT Queenstown event this past Sunday.  The reason that he has received so much notoriety is that he has Cerebral Palsy.  Everyone finds this amazing, because he has overcome a lot of difficult circumstances to be able to get to this point.  I agree with congratulating someone on winning a tournament, because it’s not an easy thing to do, and many great players can go years without a major victory.

With that being said, I think the attention this is getting is grossly over the top, and actually hits a nerve that I don’t particularly enjoy having hit.  Just because he is disabled doesn’t make it particularly more or less impressive than if he was just some average person.  Winning a tournament is hard for anyone and you need a combination of running really well for a little bit and skill to take advantage of the running really well.  So no matter what his, or anyone’s, position in life is, it should still be complemented and celebrated.

I am legally blind, which means I can’t drive, I can’t read cards if they are placed on the table, and I have honestly seen very few people who are my friends in any great detail.  Being blind is something that is pretty hard to hide, because you can’t see anything and you make lots of small compensations for that, and some not so small compensations. As I am writing this right now, I have to sit about 4” away from the computer to be able to read it, and that’s probably being generous.  Point of me saying that, is I am not someone without experience trying to talk about this.  I have lived the life of a handicapped person since I was born, and I will live it for the rest of my life. It’s a reality that I have come to accept of many years, and it still makes me unhappy, but it’s reality and crying about it does nothing.

 When people are treating him like he is more special or more impressive just because he has overcome a physical disability cheapens his accomplishment and is the answer to why you don’t see more handicapped people playing poker.  Being singled out and treated differently really kills any desire to put yourself in that situation.  As a handicapped person you want to be treated the same and you want to be able to go somewhere that you are complemented on your skill alone, not having anything change people’s view on that skill based on your handicap.

This goes for women poker players as well.  Many people wonder what will cause the next big poker boom and are thrilled when a woman, minority, or someone with a disability makes it deep in a major tournament.  They hope that it will somehow encourage more people like that individual to start playing.  This however misses the major point, and as long as that is the hope of the community some major boom will not happen.  Singling people out because of something they can’t help doesn’t do anything for the game, or the subsection of people you hope it will.

The best way to help the game grow is to start treating everyone closer to the same, and not making bigger stories out of the differences in people.  If a woman is doing well, then don’t treat them like they are amazing just because they are better than other omen if they are still behind what you would qualify as good for a man.  Vanessa Selbst has helped this somewhat by being just plain amazing no matter what scale you put her on, and as a result she has lost the tag of “woman” when talking about her accomplishments.  This has done more for poker than her winning everything.

Handicaps might be even further down this road, because in every aspect of your life you are treated differently when you have a handicap.  If there is a place you can go and are treated like an equal, you are going to gravitate towards that place.  Poker should attempt to get closer to that as normal operation, as opposed to saying any player is amazing for the circumstances they have overcome.  If you need more proof of that talk to someone you know if handicapped and ask them what people thought about them graduating high school or college.  The answer you get might surprise you.

Essentially, the best way to think about this in a way that will allow you to get an idea of what it is like is if you would like to be complimented and get a pat on the head because you came from a poor family or if you have a lower IQ than someone else.  Generally the answer is that no you wouldn’t want to be treated any differently in either one of those situations.  You would want the same praise as any one, and you wouldn’t want to be given special treatment because of it.

The people calling for him to be a PokerStars Team Pro don’t realize that they are probably going to do more to hurt he chances of the handicapped community feeling more comfortable than they are going to do as far as helping it is concerned.  Getting handed something he doesn’t deserve yet will just add to the stereotype that handicapped people aren’t as capable as an average person and small victories to most are huge victories to the person who can’t help themselves as well.

I think the best result of this situation was if he was treated like everyone else and then he told people about his story on his own terms and worked as more of an overcoming the odds person.  This allows him to motivate people without being treated differently in the community as a whole.  He is able to be a messenger, but no one can ever say that he got a sponsorship through just being different.  Further, showing as a community that you are not going to get handouts just for being handicapped will make people more likely to go to a local card room and try something different.

I know that I have opted to not go to the casino because I didn’t want to be treated differently.  These fears are not unfounded though as I have been treated differently when I needed some help reading cards, or I wasn’t sure if the action was on me.  If I hadn’t started playing online first, these experiences might have actually driven me away, but I already had such a love for the game that I just have decided to play less live, and more online.  I can’t get away from this treatment in all circumstances of my life, but when I have a chance to get away from it in an optional scenario, than I am going to take that opportunity.  I don’t speak for all handicapped people obviously, but the number that has the same thoughts as me is much higher than you would think, and I wouldn’t be shocked if it is actually the large majority of people with disabilities.

Please congratulate Mr. Bredin on winning the ANZPT Queenstown event, but not because he has CP, but do it instead because winning a tournament isn’t easy.  If next time you see a story about someone who has a disadvantage in life ask yourself if you would feel the same way about someone who has no apparent disadvantage.  If you wouldn’t care about that person winning a tournament, then you shouldn’t care about anyone winning a tournament.  This can be applied to all areas of your life and should be how you think of most situations involving someone who has a disability and someone who doesn’t.  If the person needs help then you should give it to them, but treat them just like everybody else, and then you might see the next poker boom, but it won’t happen until that is the common mentality of all people.

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Andrew Schupick