Monday, November 10, 2014

The Agony and the Ecstasy

As it came down to the finals, my enthusiasm was flagging, and I was conflicted.  Who to root for to keep me interested?  For Fabiano Vieira, somehow triumphing over his drastically injured shoulder?  Joao Ricardo Vieira, the “wild child” who has given us so many spectacular rides and yet so many befuddling buck offs? Guilherme Marchi, the old guard making a comeback?  Matt Triplett, the enthusiastic young gun?  Or Silvano Alves, our slow and steady back-to-back champ?

Luckily (?) for me, the increasingly obnoxious commentators decided that for me. On Saturday, during the escalating insufferable dude-bro attempt to be like a real sport with a sports talk program, all of the commentators proceeded to do their worst to downplay Silvano Alves and his chances. As the program went on, they became more and more unprofessional, from the usual “not understanding” his strategy and concern-trolling (i.e., backhanded compliments like, “We know he’s better than that”), to one outright saying that he is rooting against Alves. At this point, I was yelling at my television.  What kind of professional sports organization does this?

And then, these lovely individuals couldn’t understand why, when Silvano had just been scored 69 for a ride that was worth at least 79 (did the judges consider that Silvano Alves wasn’t the only one being screwed over by that score? I’m sure the stock contractor was thrilled), that he wouldn’t want to take a re-ride and be judged by the same people?  As he said here:
"Sometimes the judging affects the re-ride situation . . . . The re-ride [bull] may be a bad one, or it might be a good one. I know sometimes they are an 84-point ride, but I also know that sometimes with the re-ride situation and me, the judges may give me a 79 instead of an 80-something. I don’t want the judges to help me. I just want them to be fair."
As far as I can recall, this is the first time Silvano Alves has said something even vaguely critical of the judging, which speaks wonders for his restraint. I, however, am not constrained by being a contractor to the PBR, so let’s continue.

Justin McBride took us to new and interesting territory by musing that perhaps the judges were punishing Alves for not taking re-rides by underscoring him (something that is hardly a new thought to some of us, but not one that we’d expect to be said out loud by an ambassador of the PBR). Cody Lambert blanched and tried to backtrack on that one, and I can only imagine there was some yelling in McBride’s earpiece. You'd like to think it'd be obvious that the job of the judges is to judge the ride they see before them. The judges’ job is not to judge someone’s season-long strategy, their nationality, their personality, or anything other than the ride that just occurred. If they can’t do that, it’s time for new judges and new ways of training them.

On the same note, while it appears to be standard to subtract 10 points for Silvano Alves, the judges were apparently so delighted that J.B. Mauney was coming back to life that they decided each of his rides was worth 10 more points than they would be for anyone else. This is not a slam on J.B. Mauney—he was riding very well and I was impressed with his grit to cheerfully give interviews and to perform at this level with his jaw wired shut.  He’s not a judge, and it’s not his fault if the scoring is insane.

The judging issues were further highlighted by Silvano Alves only being scored 87.25 for being the fourth guy to ride Asteroid. Was it Asteroid’s best out? No.  But numerous guys and bulls teamed up to score above 87.25 at the finals, and for Alves to ride a former bull of the year for a comparatively piddly score just seemed sad and spiteful—he’d already won even before the ride, so attempting to send a message with that score was just bad sportsmanship, if that’s what was happening. And just to make it worse, the other Brazilians were the only ones seen out congratulating Alves when he won (although their celebration was pretty great). Pettiness is not a nice look, boys.

 Realizing they were stuck with Alves as the champ, the delicious commentator mea culpas started coming in, first from McBride (who, it must be said, seemed to think Silvano Alves would win throughout, even if he can’t say the guy’s last name right).
 “You’ve got to put him in the conversation and a lot of people are not going to want to,” McBride said. “People are going to want to put asterisks by his world championships. [They are going to say] ‘he picked his bulls. He did this. He did that.'
“Silvano has won world titles within the rules of the sport of bull riding that were set up for him to compete in. How can you not put him up there with three world championships?"
Of course, he just had to put that asterisk thing in there. Ah, how I remember the days when it was said that Guilherme Marchi wouldn’t have won without the draft, yet somehow it was okay when Kody Lostroh smartly picked bulls that fit him to win his championship. And how it continues with Ty Murray droning on about how Joao Ricardo Vieira isn’t a “whole” cowboy, and people whining that Silvano Alves isn’t doing it how they think it should be done.  Guess what, fellas, your opinion didn't mean diddly in the end.

And here’s Cody Lambert, who begrudgingly got on the “Silvano bandwagon” when he saw the writing on the wall.
“Silvano stuck to his plan—stay on all of them—and there is one guy here that stayed on all of them,” PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert said. “You can’t argue with that and he is a World Champion for a third time. 
“You don’t get given World Championships, you have to earn them,” Lambert said. “It was a great feat to ride several of the bulls he rode this week.”
Ty Murray couldn't resist pointing out one more time that this strategy can fail if there is someone consistent and high-scoring who comes along; he seems to forget that it has worked three times out of four, and that other time was pretty darn close.

You can almost hear the glass being chewed by all the commentators in their quotes. And there’s enough glass to go around, with “fans” on Facebook exclaiming that Silvano Alves isn’t a “real” cowboy and he’d never have won without the draft. We’ve been through this two other times before—nobody is stopping any of the other cowboys from using the draft strategically, and it’s hardly Alves’ fault if they don’t, or if they don’t succeed at the level he does. And oh my, what on earth with the fans online saying J.B. Mauney should have been world champ? That wasn’t even mathematically possible! He could have won the finals event, except he fell off one bull while Alves rode them all on his way to winning the event and the title. I guess somehow in their minds, it would be more “fair” to make J.B. Mauney the champ just because he rides the way they like best?

There was also whining that the rules about re-rides should be changed, that they should be mandatory unless there is a doctor’s excuse. Which I’m sure Doc Tandy would just adore—when don’t these guys have some kind of injury? Who would want to be in charge of determining when a guy is actually “hurt enough” to be “allowed” to beg off taking a re-ride? People seem to forget that Silvano Alves went much of his season with a separated shoulder—would that be enough, or are these proposed re-ride rules just somehow going to apply to him always? And I’m sure the people advocating for this rule would really love it until it forced one of their favorites into attempting to ride and getting a big fat zero (or a big fat injury) on the second try.

Regardless, now I doubt Alves is crying into his cash. He’s the second to win the championship three times, and the richest athlete in Western sports history in very short order.  Recall, he is a mere 26 years old, and he’s only been here for about five years. Who’s for championships four, five, six… seven? The PBR better figure out how to embrace Silvano Alves, which would be easy to do (he’s basically the American Dream) if they tried, because he's not going anywhere. But if they insist on fanning the flames of those who resent him, it’s only going to get uglier. I can handle it from the “fans,” but if it keeps seeming to come out of the judging pool and the commentators, this is not going to work for me.

But for a moment, let me bask in the joy of Silvano Alves winning, despite all the commentator bashing, despite the horrid judging, and despite the noisy, nasty fans. And to top it all off, Bushwacker came from behind, after they had more or less written him off, to win his third bull of the year title! Rapture! Although you kind of have to laugh at the PBR declaring Gage Gay the Rookie of the Year on the broadcast, only to find that J.W Harris kept marching through the finals and cashed in on enough bonus points to be the actual Rookie of the Year. Oops.

So, to wrap up, boo to unprofessional dogpiling commentary; inconsistent and suspicious judging; and fans who don’t understand math or how rules work. And yay to Silvano Alves for ignoring the naysayers and coming through; Chad Berger for getting back into the stock contractor groove and being named Stock Contractor of the Year; Bushwacker for triumphing for his finale year; and J.W. Harris, showing us all that guys from other organizations sure can hack it!

It's funny how this finals was a microcosm of all the things we've been railing against for years, and yet, the end result was so wonderfully satisfying.

Now can’t we wait to do it all again?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

S. Goes to Oakland Once Again - Part II

S. has returned to wrap up the tale of her adventure in Oakland!

Usually, a person can feel confident that the championship round night will be a great evening of bullriding, and not having to rush to the arena straight from work, and instead being able to enjoy some Vietnamese food and make our leisurely way, definitely helps. Upon settling into our seats, we noted that the crowd was not giant, but it definitely was better than Friday night's.

I had two newbies in tow, which always makes things more interesting, since I had to be ready to explain the idiosyncrasies of the sport, including some that perhaps I have given up on trying to understand myself. Like why Renato Nunes' hail Mary moves sometimes gain him points and sometimes lose him points, or why the PBR plays so little country music at live events, or why the announcers are so scornful about guys not taking re-rides (I had to limit myself on that on, or there would have been a full-blown rant), or whether everybody is actually named that, or how the hell they come up with the bonus points per round anyway.

My newbies weren't familiar, but we did discover via telephoto lens that Ty Murray was the color commentator (we could see the glint off his glasses across the arena). But mostly I was excited to see that they had some dividers bisecting the arena as the cowboys started marching out for their introductions, and I kind of rudely couldn't wait for them to be done, because I knew what that meant! And yes, out trotted Bushwacker in a spotlight, accompanied by much hyperbole. The bull, just like in Fresno, circled restlessly by the exit gate, probably wondering what on earth this was all about -- he knows his job, and wandering around in the arena isn't it. He certainly is a huge, striking figure.

We also quickly discovered that we were sitting near the family of a guy who had played football with Stormy Wing. They were very, very excited. Not sure how much having a dedicated cheering section may have played into Stormy Wing's mindset, but I guess it could't have hurt. Kody Lostroh managed to put up a very pretty ride despite his hand injury, and Guilherme Marchi got it together to sneak past one, although he wasn't looking as solid and secure as he usually does, unfortunately. And I have to claim a little bit of prescience, because I said to my friends at the event that Valdiron de Oliveira was looking focused and riding like his old self, and Biloxi just totally validated my insight.

Thankfully, there were more rides this evening (and at least one per flight), and that helps keep the energy up. Flint was back to his sing-a-long, although it just was for "Don't Stop Believin'" rather than for an extended set. The Stanley Stud of the night, was, I'm pretty sure, the firefighter who was the Fan of the Night last year, oddly enough. And the Fan of the Night this evening was the most adorable boy. He had longish white-blonde hair, and a hipster ensemble that included a fedora. When Flint gave him the buckle, he excitedly said, "Thank you so much!" There also was a pretty great scene where Silvano Alves bailed off his bull and directly on the shark cage, where Flint said he would "protect" him. I couldn't see what exactly was happening, but Silvano seemed to be doing some good-natured swatting.

But of course there have to be some things for me to grouse about, right? Firstly, I found it agonizing that they keep hyping up J.B. Mauney, complete with all sorts of shouting ("Who's ready to see the reigning world champ, J.B. MAUNEY?!"), and of course "Bad to the Bone" and increasingly desperate speculation about how he could somehow still be in the mix for the title this year. He's obviously banged up and going through a slump right now, so to have all this hoopla every time he's in the chute, followed by him promptly hitting the dirt like ellipses trailing off (sorry, had to play off of Hummer's obsession with exclamation points), can't be helping his psyche at all. It just seems kind of sad and grasping, with the commentators pretending he has a shot this year, I guess because they wish he did.

There also was an overly-long and un-funny gag about kids going home and trying to emulate Flint throwing his hat at bulls by throwing their hats at their dogs.  But then Flint went on and on about how they should throw them at cats instead.  Even the commentators started to back off, mumbling something about how maybe it was going too far.

Outside of that, there were also a couple of nasty scenes, including Neil Holmes trying to stick it to 8 and getting pulled under the bull. It looked like he got his thigh stomped on pretty hard, but when the injury report came back, it was all about a partially severed little finger and ear and a head gash?  Yikes. He got up and was shaking and looking at his hand, but I had no idea. So impressed with this guy's effort and try, but maybe a helmet is in order.

We finished off the long go with a couple of re-rides. Renato Nunes was scored 79.75 on his (sure, he was pretty out of shape at the end, but not sure that low a score was warranted), but did his back-flip. I have to wonder if Western Hauler, who jolted out of the chute and promptly fell on his side to try to squash Billy Robinson, will be seen too much more in the future. It's not the first time this bull has done that, and it's terrifying every time. Thankfully, Billy Robinson seemed relatively unscathed, and even though he didn't ride his re-ride bull, he still made it into the championship round.  

Unfortunately, the championship draft looked a lot differently than it was first presented, because numerous cowboys doctored out (Neil Holmes, Fabiano Vieira, Douglas Duncan, Reese Cates, Ryan Dirteater and Renato Nunes). This meant a couple guys with one relatively low score squeaked in, showing again that you just never know with this sport.

Roy (brother to Bushwacker) was really impressive in the championship round pen. Unfortunately, the real drama of his out was when Josh Faircloth's head connected with Roy's horn, and the cowboy hit the ground with a dull thud. He was out. Roy, we had heard, unlike his brother, was mean. He didn't want to leave the arena, that's for sure. Flint and Jesse Byrne stayed near Josh Faircloth, trying to keep him still (he started coming around and trying to crawl, obviously disoriented), while the other bullfighters got sucked into dealing with Roy. The pick-up man had managed to rope Roy, but couldn't get him out easily without risking Faircloth. So he had the bull off in a far corner of the arena. Unfortunately, Roy somehow got one leg hooked in under the rope, and started hopping around, eventually laying down and rolling around.  

Meanwhile, Frank Newsom and Shorty Gorham were trying take off the flank strap, and were working to get the bull's leg untangled, without becoming injury statistics themselves. When they succeeded with that, Roy took off, still roped, but clearly a bull weighs more than a horse and Roy wasn't making any effort to be cooperative. The pick-up man, with a mighty struggle, managed to steer the bull around the still-prone Faircloth and the Sports Medicine team, and out the exit gate.  Miraculously, Faircloth then got up, looking pretty bewildered, and was escorted out shortly after. It appears neither bull nor cowboy were too much worse for wear, thankfully, but as you can imagine, the television broadcast cut away from some of that pretty quickly.

The championship round was mostly the bulls' day, with Oklahoma Bell, a Pacific Bell son, putting on a nice show; so did Stanley FatMax (and Valdiron de Oliveira was this close to making the 8, too). Billy Robinson got right to the edge of making the confetti to fly with his ride on Cooper Tires Semper Fi, as did Joao Ricardo Vieira with his ride on Cowtown Slinger. The confetti did get some action with the feel-good story continuing for on-the-bubble Jason Malone, who was briefly in the lead. But then Stormy Wing hit a home run for real and won the round and the event with a 90.75 on Mr. Bull. His friends sitting near me went totally nuts, especially when he pointed at them (I think that was evident on the TV broadcast, but I'll send along a photo anyway). While I was excited for what was coming right up, it was kind of sad that the guy barely had a moment to savor his first BFTS win before they were escorting him out to prepare for his match-up with the bonus bull, Bushwacker.

The last time I saw Bushwacker was in Fresno, and I barely saw him buck there, since L.J. Jenkins was off in 1.45 seconds. This time, although the official buckoff was just over 3 seconds with a slap, Stormy Wing was on for a few more seconds than that, and Bushwacker was still bucking like the champ he is. And during those seconds, I had a moment of revelation that for all the BS that sometimes enrages me about this sport, this is why I watch. This is what makes it worth it--it's as simple as a rank bull really bucking and a cowboy really putting out the effort. Now if only the PBR and I can remember that!

So after my moment of clarity, we were off to the final moments of the event, with Stormy Wing getting a real chance to enjoy the spotlight, and Julio Moreno accepting the high-marked bull award for Roy (who, interestingly, would have won it even if Bushwacker's score had counted--the bonus bull score was apparently not part of the event ranking--as he outscored his brother). Looks like Moreno may have another contender.

So, there it is! And, since one of my friends won 4 VIP seats for next season through PBR Passport, I guess you haven't heard the last of me yet. I do have to say that live events really do help bring me back to the essentials of why I love this sport, so I'm definitely glad that NorCal is somehow a schedule hotspot.

Thanks again to S. for sending in her adventures!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

S. Goes to Oakland Once Again - Part I

S. is here once again to save us from the blank space that would be filled with the rantings and ravings of SQ and PdV, if they had not stalled on posting for an embarrassingly long time.  Welcome to the first part of her adventures at the Kawasaki Strong Battle By the Bay in Oakland!

When the schedule came out for the 2014 season, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised to see Oakland on it. I can only imagine the PBR is getting a great deal on the venue, because attendance last year was beyond pathetic, especially on Friday. But who am I to question the schedule of the PBR, particularly when it rewards Northern California?

I wish I could say that the attendance was any better on Friday this year, but it would be a flat-out lie if I did. I'm guessing the PBR's expectations were low, since even the sponsors didn't bother to do much prior to the event, if they bothered to do anything at all.  Rider Relief was there, of course, with a rider doing a signing (Mike Lee) and their contest for a donation (you get a frisbee that you can try to throw into the bed of the Ford truck at a designated time, and maybe win a signed rider vest). Cooper Tire was doing some kind of prize contest, and of course the Fan Club/Passport booth was there, along with some people trying to sell sports tickets and Caterpillar/Bass Pro trying to get people to enter a contest to win a fishing trip with Luke Snyder (I think I totally confused the lady when I blurted out that I don't eat fish). That was pretty much it, besides one merchandise booth, and the ubiquitous PBR Visa people.

After "enjoying" my $9 cheeseburger with no burger from one of the few open places in one of the clubhouses, and meeting up with some friends, it was off to my seat, ready for the festivities. I'm pretty immune to the flaming introduction at this point, but it was apparent that the pick-up man's horse was not, poor thing. At least there wasn't a PBR Party Barn this year, so I didn't have drunken stumbling people threatening to dump beer on me all night long.

Anyway, even though the bull pen was not especially impressive, there were not a lot of rides. Of the rides, many were high 70s/low 80s, some with re-ride options and some without (some bafflingly without). Silvano Alves ended up with a 58.25 and turned down the re-ride – I could hear the PBRLive commentary in my head. Of course, re-rides didn't always help, anyway. Jordan Hupp took his re-ride and scored 2 points less on the second go-round (80.25 to a 78.25 with another re-ride option; he called it a day).

Thankfully there were some decent rides scattered in there. The newest beneficiary of a 3-event exemption based on stellar performance at a recent BFTS event, Neil Holmes, put up another nice one. Fabiano Vieira continues to amaze with his ability to ride with his nearly immovable free arm. Stormy Wing, the commentators' favorite "home-run hitter," managed to hit one this time around, and veteran Billy Robinson hit a triple, then, if we're using that jargon. The feel-good story of the weekend was Jason Malone, who desperately  needed to ride, and did. Still, eleven rides out of 35+ attempts in a long go was somewhat less than impressive. It was obvious that the wear and tear of the season is really playing a role in the ability of the guys to ride and their decisions regarding re-rides.  

There were a few bulls worth watching (Papa Smurf, Comfortably Numb and Wild For the Night were of note), and definitely some squirrelly bulls that didn't want to leave the arena or otherwise provided some entertainment. At one point, the pick-up man’s horse got nearly clotheslined and spooked pretty badly, but the guy kept his seat. Flint unfortunately then made some comment about how that was a better ride than Silvano Alves' low-scored ride.

Everything else was pretty much the way it always is, although they seem to have gotten rid of the Kiss Kam, thankfully, and the Stanley Stud-finder blessedly now only goes through beeping for one doofus in the crowd, so we don't have to sit through three rounds of it. Flint had some new material, which was good, although he couldn't resist some kind of "handout/welfare in California" joke, which went over like a lead balloon. The crowd just went totally silent, and then there was some quiet, ominous rumbling. Not sure Flint really wants to explore the GDP, federal tax dollars paid, and dependency of California in comparison to other states, because I’m pretty sure that wouldn't go anywhere he wants to go. Thankfully he quickly moved on and did some goofy dancing, which is all for the best. Outside of that, I saw Jim Haworth a couple times. The fan of the night was a girl who had been the Little Miss Buckaroo of her town, and wanted to grow up to be a barrel racer (Flint told her to  marry someone rich).

Of course, one of the reasons to go to an event on the first day is that’s when Fan Club member exclusives usually happen. In this case, it was an on-the-dirt signing. Unfortunately, this turned out sort of weird as there’s a ring almost like a cattle chute around the outside of the arena at this venue, so the riders went around that first to sign for the general crowd. The cowboys were then supposed to jump the fence near the chutes and come on the dirt, but not all of them did.  Which is fine. I don't feel the guys are obligated to do anything, and I know the PBR works hard to give fans access to the cowboys at events, and I certainly appreciate it. But it seems like if you are going to have an on-the-dirt exclusive signing, having the fans in the stands getting to see more of the cowboys than the people who have paid to be in the fan club is not how that should work.

Thankfully, the cowboys who did clamber over the fence were gracious. Tanner Byrne complimented my drawing (a general one for everyone to sign) and asked if I really wanted him to sign it, because he didn't want to "ruin it," which was kind of adorable. I had a drawing specifically for Guilherme Marchi to sign, but besides that, I was eager to have the chance to talk to Neil Holmes, the new invitee who is taking the PBR by storm. Having read some features on him, I was intrigued. He has been well-spoken in PBR interviews, and it’s pretty clear to me that the PBR could use a college-educated cowboy who can give more than the usual sound-bite ("just having fun," "riding jump for jump," "one bull at a time," etc.). Not to mention that he's everything that could bring new fans to the sport – definitely not the same old, same old. And now I can confirm that he's also very sweet to fans, even if he told me he didn't think he was cool enough to have fans.

I have struggled with what I want to say about this next part, and I am hoping I’ll figure it out as I write it. I just don’t even know what to say, and as annoyed as I was on behalf of the riders involved, I think it's best to leave it anonymous. I guess I’ll just say that there was some sort of weird incident that led to one of the PBR arena folks pulling aside a few riders and lecturing them in front of all the fan club members who were paying attention. Fans kept coming over who didn't realize what was going on, wanting to talk to those riders, and then the arena security would make them stand back, drawing even more attention to the scene. The riders involved looked so humiliated and angry, and I can't say I blame them.  I'm not entirely clear about the incident that started the scene, but regardless, the "discipline" could have been handled in another way, and certainly in another place!

Anyway, this kind of put a pall on the evening for me. However, I did have my drawing for Guilherme to sign, and he smiled when he saw it, and said, "Yes, I will sign this for you!" Then someone else grabbed him, but I was finally able to give him the extra copy. He then gave me a side hug and a "Bless you!" That definitely took a little of the sting off the weird scene for me.

I actually got dragged briefly to the host hotel by a friend, where various cowboys and PBR crew were hanging out in the lobby, but I had to catch a train out, so I didn't stay long. So, that was the first day. More to come.

Stay tuned for Part II!  

Friday, August 8, 2014

Too Much Bull?

The divine Pearl and I hesitate to interrupt your summer break from bull riding, which we are sure you are spending wisely by lolling around the pool, drink in hand. But we feel compelled to direct your attention to this outstanding article, “Too Much Bull,” by Andrea Appleton, which appeared in SB Nation about a month ago. We encourage you to read the whole thing at your convenience, but the premise of the story is that many bull breeders are sending their not-quite-ready-for-the-PBR level bulls to high school rodeos and other events for kids. The bottom line is that these bulls may not be up to the PBR standard, but they are too hot for kids. Obviously, many parents are justifiably very concerned because a lot of kids are getting hurt, some of them very badly, but almost as importantly, many kids are getting discouraged and dropping out of the sport entirely. 

Cody Custer, who is one of the founders of the PBR, is taking this issue on in a startlingly forthright manner. Check out his Facebook page, Answers for Bull Riders by Cody Custer, for his analysis of this situation and his recommendations for fixing it. In a post on July 11, he notes that at the International Finals Youth Rodeo this year, there were about 140 outs on bulls and only 10 qualified rides. With odds like that, it’s no wonder kids are abandoning the sport of bull ridingthese statistics sound like the ones at the big leagues that are being lamented by commentators and fans, and there’s no way that is a good thing for kids learning the ropes.

As Cody Custer and others note, with all the trumpeting about J.B. Mauney and how much money he’s made, young American kids should be pumped up and flocking to the sport.  However, this is not what’s happening. If the current trend continues, we can foresee a time when there will be even fewer American bull riders on the PBR circuit, which is interesting to consider, given the unmistakable antagonism against foreign riders even at this early point.

We thoroughly agree with Custer that the practice of over-matching bulls with young riders should be changed. The people who can change it are those who run the organizations that stage youth rodeos—they need to be getting bulls (and possibly even steers for the youngest riders) for the events that are appropriately rank for each age level, but are not eliminators.

We would also like to point out that one way to deepen the ranks of young talent is to quit banning half of it from participating, namely, young women. Yes, we’ve ridden this horse before, but it’s not dead yet, and thus we plan to continue beating it.

We have seen some mumblings about how much even PBR stock contractors get paid per out (hint: it’s not a lot), and we can’t imagine that outs at high-school and lower-level kids’ events pay in some spectacular fashion. (There’s probably not a lot of money in breeding fees and advertising for high school rodeo stock, either.) We get that making a living as a stock contractor, especially a stock contractor not in the leagues of, say, a Jeff Robinson, is not an easy proposition—with droughts, high feed costs, and all the rest that goes with it, nobody (well, hardly anybody) is making a fortune. 

But regardless of the struggles of stock contractors, the short-sightedness of taking over-rank bulls to events for kids, and thereby discouraging or even seriously injuring youngsters for a measly pay-out, is obvious. Besides the youth organizations themselves being more stringent about what stock they accept at their rodeos, the only other solution we can see would lie with the successful PBR stock contractors and the PBR itself. If they invest in the future riders of America and the future of the sport by forming some kind of non-profit organization to supply appropriate stock to high school and other events for children, maybe there’s a way out of this mess.

If, on the other hand, those who could help choose to look away, then we anticipate a day when there will be even fewer bull riders from the United States, and we anticipate that day arriving sooner rather than later. If young riders get paired with too-rank bulls too often at the beginning of their careers, they may decide they're not having enough fun to justify the pain and the discouragement. That would be a shame not only for the individual rider, but for the future of professional bull riding as well.

Monday, May 5, 2014

A Man, A Plan, A Canal, Panama

I would like to invite you all to head over to Bullridingmarketing blog to savor Kris DiLorenzo’s most excellent post about one of the PBR’s more recent blunders, a marketing survey conducted over a period of 30 days with a group of invited participants. The Divine Miz D has a field day with this subject, and I would not want any of you to miss a single salient, laser-guided observation.

There’s no need for me to recount here the details of her observations, but her principal point bears repeating: Despite the PBR’s continuous efforts to force its fans into little boxes (cowboys? cowgirls? SAHMs? heavy-metal fans? extreme fighting fans?), the bottom line is that there is NO typical PBR fan. 

You’d think that finding this out would actually make marketing the sport a lot simpler, because those developing the campaigns could focus on the obvious: It’s the sport that’s the draw, not the so-called culture of the sport, the existence of which is suspect to begin with.

That’s it, folks—the boys versus the bulls. Straight-up competition, one on one, no guts, no glory, no pain, no gain, no balls, no babies. That’s what makes my heart beat faster, that’s why I’m still here despite all the crap that the PBR keeps dishing out, and it baffles me to now end why somebody in Pueblo can’t just grab hold of this one fact and follow it where it leads.

This could be the idea with the potential to finally take the sport into the mainstream: People love to watch the boys and the bulls square off on the dirt. It’s time to just acknowledge it, embrace it, and run with it. All the rest is bullshit that unfortunately is not being produced by bulls. It’s time, as Grandma Lee famously said in her too-brief run on America’s Got Talent several years ago, to cut the crap. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Fresno (Once Again)

S. returned to Fresno, and has kindly agreed to tell us about her adventures this time around.

Flint "protects" Brady Simms on the shark cage
To be honest, I waited a little too long before writing this, so it may be more brief than the usual as details are escaping me by the moment.   I'll be sure to pad with a lot of photos.  Friday is also kind of a blur as I worked a half day before driving the nearly four hours to Fresno through not great traffic, checking into the hotel, and hustling over to the event.

There's nothing very new or exciting about the pre-event festivities, except the fan club now has something called PBR Passport.  You get a card that hooks up to your information, and you get it scanned at the events you attend for the chance to win prizes.  Most of the prizes seemed pretty good too, like VIP tickets to the same event next year, or $500. Unfortunately, I didn't win any of them, but at least they seemed worthwhile.  Also, they've gotten rid of the Bass Pro Shops shooting arrows at the deer practice target or the fishing thing, and now you have to guess the monetary total of the items Luke Synder is putting in his cart at Bass Pro Shops.  Amazingly, someone won this on Friday.

Silvano Alves stands alone...
Anyway, I was keen to go to the Friday event for multiple reasons.  Firstly, the PBR kept going on about testing a new chute clock, and I was very curious to see what that meant.  Secondly, it was to be the first event after ABQ where the invitees J.W. Harris and Guytin Tsosie would be competing with a 5 event invitation.  And finally, and most importantly, it would be my chance to see Bushwacker buck in person  in the 15/15.  So let's run it down:

Chute clock: I was curious but filled with trepidation about the PBR's latest foray into screwing around with the rules.  On the positive side, I think it does really help the guys to have a clear visual cue about where they are with the timing, rather than it totally being the whim of the chute judge, who might be yelling something incoherent.  However, one minute is really not a lot of time, and since the judges have "discretion" to add several more 20 second intervals, it's all just as arbitrary as before.  And while it's hard to make a direct attribution, I feel like there were a lot more nasty wrecks and hangups than I am used to seeing, and one has to wonder how much of that might be due to guys hustling to get out before the minute runs out.  So far, not a fan.  Bulls are unpredictable and both rider and bull safety need to be considered-- at the least, the initial clock time should be increased.
Horrified amusement or amused horror?

J.W. Harris and Guytin Tsosie: J.W. Harris showed he is the real deal to the PBR audience with a pretty little ride on Hot Blooded. Guytin Tsosie unfortunately did not do as well.  I suspect he got overwhelmed and was trying too hard-- he was overriding the bulls.  Thankfully he seems to have figured things out since.

Bushwacker: They actually trotted him out in the introductions, although I don't think he really appreciated it, as he spent the whole time circling around near the chutes, apparently wondering why he was there and just wanting to leave.  I think he knows his job and he knew this wasn't it.  Bushwacker is huge, by the way!  And, although we only got a few seconds of action from him as he dumped L.J. Jenkins, I was very happy to have seen him buck in person.

Kody Lostroh and Valdiron de Oliveira
At the end of the 15/15, there actually were a number of rides, but Silvano Alves was triumphant with a Silvano-of-old style ride on Rango.  He was pumped up after the ride, but it was extremely bizarre the way the PBR had a handler or two trot him up on the shark cage, where he just stood by himself, doffing his hat, until they told him to come down.  I hope that looked better on camera because it was super awkward in person.

The other notable thing about Friday's event was that Brandon Bates wasn't there, so the in-arena announcers were Clint Adkins and Matt West.  I enjoyed West's calm take on things, and his response to Flint's twerking speaks for us all.

Young guns Gage Gay and Matt Triplett
Oh, and since the entrance for the on-the-dirt fan club signing was all the way around the arena from us and we were in row B, we were unable to get on the dirt (well, maybe we could have, but it would have been after most of the cowboys went around). I guess if we'd left before Bushwacker bucked, we could have made it, but I wasn't going to do that.  It's too bad there isn't an easier way for this to play out, but I suppose there's always next time.

On Saturday, we had made plans to meet up with a fun PBR friend and enjoy the day (for some reason, this was an evening event).  After ending up in a gun store because it looked like the hipster coffee place (Clovis, what can you do?) and breakfast, we ambled to Boot Barn, because we had coupons and because there were cowboys there.  I didn't end up buying anything at Boot Barn, but I did get some photos that kind of made up for the inability to capitalize on the on-the-dirt signing the night before.  We got a nice tour of various parts of Fresno with our pal, and ended up chatting with some of the Brazilian riders at the hotel, who were kind enough to pose for a photo -- Emilio Resende seemed especially pleased by this.
Brazilian brigade

The bulls by and large were fairly decent at this event, although many were pretty squirrelly; probably bulls act up at all events but we just don't see it on TV, for obvious time saving reasons. In another not-seen-on-TV-moment, we got to experience the event itself being delayed in order to fit into airing live on CBS Sports Network. The in-arena announcers kept us up to date with overtime shenanigans of whatever we were waiting for, while Flint did his thing. 

Flint discovered that pickup man Julio Moreno's horse really didn't like him, so he spent some time taunting the poor thing.  He's lucky the horse didn't give him a swift kick.  Speaking of Flint, since I no longer pay to see the LEC stream, even though his act has not really changed, it was more bearable.  Also, Matt West gave him some new material by having attended a Miley Cyrus concert by himself.  Good for him.

Flint tempts fate
Not much terribly notable happened at the event overall , although there were a fair amount of rides.  also, Cody Lambert must have yanked Stone Sober from the Championship Round after his performance at the 15/15, since he wasn't there and Hair Trigger was.

I do hope, however, that someone told Tanner Byrne, who was so elated after his ride, the last one in the round, and who clearly thought he won, that the crowd was booing his score and that he hadn't won, not him.  He looked really confused, poor guy.  I'm sure his time will come, even if it ended up being Cody Nance's  victory this time.

Unique artwork transportation provided by...
There was one amusing little story I can tell about Saturday.  I had done a drawing for Robson Palermo, but he didn't come out either night, I assume because he was pretty battered.  I decided to ask Renato Nunes, who I had previously done a drawing for, if he could maybe take it to Robson.  He seemed pretty confused by this request, and more confused by what to do with it as he did his rounds, but he agreed to take it.  His ultimate decision was to put the drawing down the back of his jeans, which was quite an entertaining image.  It may be the only artwork transported by cowboy jeans. 

So, in conclusion, chute clock reception is mixed, Bushwacker is a plus, PBR friends are definitely a positive, and amusing cowboy moments keep us all entertained.  The recipe for another successful trip to Fresno.  Too bad I had to drive back home for four hours right after leaving the event... 

Thanks to S. for sharing her tales of Fresno!  Hopefully I managed to insert her photos in a somewhat organized fashion.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Oversharing, the Beta Version

This is what happens when you get really, really bored: A week or two ago, like a fool, I made the mistake yet again of sauntering over to to see if anything there might amuse me for a few minutes. And naturally the first thing I stumbled over was one of the ongoing series of pablum titled “The Women of the PBR,” this time featuring Dana Lee. Something about the title struck me as odd, so, like a fool, I clicked on the link, and then, as F. Scott Fitzgerald observed, the holocaust was complete.

What that ill-considered click revealed is that apparently Mike Lee is no longer married to his childhood sweetheart Jamie, about whom we learned so much in Fried Twinkies and various posts on the PBR website, including the 2008 announcement that she and Mike had become the parents of twins. Nope, this is a brand-new Mrs. Michael Lee, hailing from, of all places, New York, where she apparently met her husband in a bar during the Madison Square Garden event in 2010.

What a stunning revelation this all is! The mind boggles at its implications! Which end of this tangled rope shall we pull on first?

Well—none of them. Begging the pardon of Kurt Vonnegut, I don’t give a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut whether Mike Lee is married, divorced, remarried, a polygamist with 15 wives and 60 children, or a partner in a line marriage of 10 men and five women. I would not care if we learned that he’s gay and holds hands with other riders behind the chutes, and if that were the case, I most certainly wouldn't give a rat’s ass if he and his friend ran away together in Las Vegas this fall and got hitched at the Tunnel of Love Drive-Through Wedding Chapel in their brand-new Ford F-150 with Ecoboost.

No, what I care about is that clearly, back in the Stone Age, somebody (or several somebodies) at the PBR decided that the riders should be extolled as role models of upright behavior for all the world to see. Mike Lee has come in for more than his justified share of this shit because he is a profoundly religious man, and that is just ambrosia to the dudes at PBR headquarters—they can’t wait to talk about what a fine Christian man he is, along with all that implies.

In all sincerity, I respect the fact that Lee’s faith is central to his character. But in equal sincerity, I shouldn’t know a damned thing about his religious beliefs or a single detail about his personal life. I shouldn’t know the names of his ex-wife, or his children, or his new wife. None of that is relevant to bull riding.

Despite all protests to the contrary, professional bull riding is not a mainstream sport, and this endless nattering about the riders’ personal lives is one of the biggest reasons. You don’t see this shit in other professional sports. Just waltz on over to the National Football League’s website, and you’ll see instantly what I’m talking about. What you’ll find there are factual stories and analysis about the SPORT. That’s the way it should be.

Here's the point: When a sports organization starts incorporating information about the athletes' personal lives into the narrative that drives the sport, that organization is forever after obligated to tell EVERYTHING about their personal lives, including the embarrassing parts that make it clear that doing so just set the athletes up for failure from the beginning. 

And when that organization deliberately leaves out the embarrassing details, that action exposes the flaw at the heart of the narrative. What's even more embarrassing is the fact that the Powers That Be should have been able to look far enough down the road at the beginning to anticipate such potholes—or washed-out bridges, as the case may be.

I wish Mike and Dana Lee all the best. I hope they have a long and loving marriage, but no matter how it works out, I hope to hell never to hear another word about it from the PBR spin machine.