CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Browns' resounding victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday left a raucous First Energy Stadium feeling elated. However, for one small group of fans, the post-game hysteria turned into frustration as about a dozen wheelchair-bound fans were forced to wait outside the stadium for about 90 minutes before their transportation could arrive.
Carolyn and Robert Allen, who have been season ticket holders for decades, told their children about their experience on Sunday, who then posted on social media. The posts on Twitter and Facebook drew widespread criticism. The Allens were not expecting such a strong response from fans and other users but were pleased to know that the issue raised awareness.
“There’s a challenge because there is a long wait before anyone that is picking up can get into the stadium,” Carolyn Allen said. “They have disabilities, handicaps, some of them are severe than others. They have to wait and they usually have to wait outside and it's for a long time.”
Allen said she and her husband waited outside the stadium for more than 90 minutes on Sunday before the crowds cleared and roads re-opened. There were approximately a dozen other wheelchair-bound fans that also had to wait. Although the weather on Sunday was pleasant, that hasn’t always been the case after past games, Allen said.
“If they have to wait an excessive amount of time they should be comfortable. I think that is really important,” Allen said. “With people who have disabilities in wheelchairs and other devices of assistance, that is really stressful.”
Late Monday afternoon, the Browns released the following statement:
“We have always been committed to implementing effective ingress and egress processes for our fans, with everyone’s safety and well-being as our top priority. We recognize that there are inherent logistical challenges for all fans in attendance due to the location of our stadium and the intersection of pedestrian and vehicular patterns before and after games, particularly with more than 65,000 people leaving around the same time and the resulting traffic and wait times to be expected. Specific to guests in need of special assistance, we understand the need for other measures to help expedite arrival and departure from the stadium, including the dedicated drop-off and pick-up zones and parking in closer proximity to the stadium that remain available. While we have comprehensive plans in place for all fans, we continue to work closely with the City of Cleveland and Cleveland Division of Police to maximize the safety of everyone downtown while exploring every avenue to create the best experience possible and making improvements on a weekly basis.”
Allen said she is keenly aware of the logistical and operational issues that the Browns and city leaders have to work through in order to have the tens of thousands of fans leave the stadium in a safe and orderly manner. However, she also firmly believes that there has to be a better way to keep mobility-challenged fans and patrons from having to wait for as long as they did on Sunday afternoon.
"They have to keep that flow of traffic going. There is no doubt about it,” Allen said. “But there certainly needs to be some attention paid to how can we either handle the problem with better accessibility and with comfort — as much comfort as we can for those that have disabilities.”