Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ode to Kaylynn Pellam, or, Let's Call a Spade a Spade

My fine friends, I am astonished by the number of issues about the PBR that are swarming around me, pulling at my sleeves and snapping at my heels, while I try to pick just one. We have people who ride WITHOUT HELMETS getting stepped on, people who ride with helmets getting them knocked off and their chickens scattered in consequence, Kody Lostroh aiding and abetting racist behavior over on the Breeder’s Connection boards, Justin McKee still absent, and Erin Coscarelli proving that she doesn’t even have the sense to prepare decently for her first PBR appearance by dreaming up a question more intelligent than, “How did that feel?” (I presume she was talking about the ride.)

It’s like being dropped into the midst of a litter of adorable puppies—except that none of these puppies is exactly adorable. In fact, it’s more like having to choose the shark that needs to be bludgeoned first. People, it’s going to be a damned long season.

Having said that, I say again: BRING BACK JUSTIN MCKEE! NOW!

Now that I’ve (temporarily) cleared the decks on that one, I will proceed to the matter closest to my heart at the moment. I know that many of you noted that just before the season started, a PBR press release announced that Kaylynn Pellam would be the first woman to compete in a PBR Touring Pro event on January 8.

As it happens, I have been thinking about writing something on the subject of female bull riders and the PBR for nearly a year now. Several of the folks who visit this blog have also corresponded with me about it, and I have kept assuring them that I intended to do something, but I was hindered by some issues with research and ethics, and had consequently pushed the matter to the back burner for a bit, to simmer, so to speak.

In addition, I know, personally, a woman who is a bull rider on the International Gay Rodeo circuit, and I’ve talked to her about this matter quite a bit. Given the extraordinarily homophobic attitudes I’ve heard expressed by many PBR fans, however, I am loathe to come right out and name names, because I don’t want to take even the slightest chance that I might put her in harm’s way.

Anyway, when Montana Barn Cat read the press release about Ms. Pellam, he promptly forwarded the link to our bull-riding friend, who proceeded to follow the story to the best of her ability. Which was not at all easy, I might add, because nearly three weeks after that event in Grand Rapids, NONE of the Touring Pro results are anywhere to be found on the PBR website. Maybe instead of throwing money at David Neal Productions and telling him what an awesome job he’s doing (not!), Mr. Jeffrey Pollack should throw some at a decent webmaster. We keep hearing that things will get better on the site, but seeing is believing.

So Female Bull Rider Friend did some sleuthing, and she confirmed what I had begun to suspect—Ms. Kaylynn Pellam bucked off her first bull in Grand Rapids. I am not surprised, because I’m pretty sure that most newcomers to the PBR buck off their first bull, and probably several after that, before they gain their sea-legs. What is interesting, though, is that the fanfare that greeted the announcement of her participation appears to have dried up entirely. There has not been one damned word spoken on the subject, as far as I can see, since the Grand Rapids event.

While we’re standing around the stockyard picking chiggers, as my dad used to say, I’d just like to shovel a little manure out of the way, so we won’t waste any time stepping in it and scraping it off our boots for the rest of the afternoon. Here’s the deal: There is absolutely no physiological reason, not one, why a woman should not be able to ride bulls professionally. A fit female athlete should be able to climb on the back of a bull, and fall off, without endangering her life, limbs, or reproductive prospects any more than a male athlete would. Anybody who tells you otherwise is pushing his (or her) sexist agenda. Do not listen to it.

Pellam’s credentials are impressive. According to the PBR’s press release, she has won several bull riding titles (the 2009 Open Bull Riding Championship at Vinita, OK, the 2003 California state bull riding title, the Southern California section championship in 2004 and 2005, and the Northern California section title in 2005 and 2006), and has placed very high in the standings in other events for years running. Now a senior at Oklahoma State University, she competes in team roping, breaking roping, and goat tying. She hopes to go to vet school after she finishes her degree in biochemistry and molecular biology this spring.

But here’s the reason I find her achievements so interesting: There is not one word in this list about her having won or placed in any National High School Rodeo Association events, which is the avenue by which most youngsters enter the field. And there’s a very good reason for that: The National High School Rodeo Association BANS FEMALES from competing in rough-stock events at NHSRA-sanctioned rodeos. Check it out here for yourself, and note as well how neatly the association sidesteps having to justify its stance.

As our Female Bull Rider Friend told me months ago, this is what keeps women, for all intents and purposes, out of the sport from the get-go. It’s a perfect system, because it cuts the potential talent off at the knees before most of them are even old enough to think they might like to try to ride bulls. Having been around a lot of young women who do compete in rodeo in this part of the country, I’d have to say this tactic goes hand-in-hand with funneling them off into genuinely stupid so-called sports like barrel racing or, worse yet, goat tying.

It reminds me of Yossarian’s epiphany about Catch-22, which he saw “clearly in all its spinning reasonableness. There was an elliptical precision about its perfect pair of parts that was graceful and shocking, like good modern art. . . .” Any way you turn it, the NHSRA’s method is a tight, self-contained solution to the problem of women getting so uppity as to think they can ride with the big boys, and it makes me nauseous every time I think about it.

My Female Bull Rider Friend asked me whether I thought Pellam was paid to compete in the Touring Pro event in Grand Rapids, and of course I have no idea. I am pretty sure that somebody else (and it would not surprise me to learn that it was Melissa and George Marshal) paid for her PBR membership card, which is all a person has to have to start competing in PBR events. (Unlike the NHSRA, the PBR is very careful not to step directly into this hornet’s nest—there’s not a word about gender in the PBR guidelines for competing that I can see.)

But I don’t really care about who paid what to whom here. What I care about is that this seems to me to be a straight-up publicity stunt that went nowhere, and I hope that Pellam does not suffer because of it.

All in all, I have to admire Kaylynn Pellam for deciding that she wanted to ride bulls, and then for figuring out how she could go about it, since the NHSRA was closed to her. (She must have done that at a relatively young age, since she's 21 at the moment, and she won the state bull-riding championship in California in 2003.)

And I want it understood that when I state that barrel racing and goat tying are not sports, I mean neither Ms. Pellam nor any other woman who competes in those activities any disrespect. I know well that there is expertise involved, and I know that many of the competitors knock their brains out to excel at them. I have no doubt Ms Pellam is a goat-tyer par excellence.

That being said, if Venus Williams took up goat-tying, I still could not take it seriously. As far as I can tell, it’s just another way to keep the girls occupied while the boys of rodeo compete in the events that really matter.

And those events are rough stock, and the glamour sport of rough stock is bull riding. If the PBR is serious about encouraging women to give it a shot (which frankly I doubt to the bottom of my skeptical soul), the Powers That Be in Pueblo need to quit looking for publicity-garnering quick fixes. They need to lean on the National High School Rodeo Association, and for that matter all rodeos that ban women from competing in rough-stock events, to move into the 21st century and acknowledge that women can compete in those events at the highest levels. All they need is a fighting chance to learn the ropes. My advice to those who doubt this is that they get out of the way and watch, while the women prove them wrong.


Jean said...

This is interesting. I didn't know this. We have been lucky enough that the fellow down the road that raises bucking bulls has small events at his place several times a year. There have been girls who have ridden bulls right along with the guys there. I should find out who those girls are and what the rest of their story is.

I've known several girls that were in High School Rodeo, one even became H.S. Rodeo Queen (rather dubious honor if you ask me but there you have that). At least she had to do well in several facets of horsemanship, as well as being a purty gal to win that title. I do have to mention that riding (of any type) is definitely a sport. Barrel racers included ;-) It requires no less balance, timing and split second decision making. The big difference is that, generally speaking, the horses aren't doing all they can to buck you off and kill you lol.

Jean said...

OH and I have not cared for Mr. Lohstroh since the canned lion hunt thing, so if he is indeed "aiding and abetting racist behavior" it would not come a surprise. I grew up in a hunting and fishing family as did my father, my uncle, and my cousins. I was around many many hunters when I lived in Montana. Every last one of the REAL hunters I have ever known have said that anyone that enjoys the killing aspect of hunting has something wrong with them. Not one of the REAL hunters I know respects anyone who goes on canned hunts. None. It's just killing for killing's sake. So, having other twisted aspects to the psyche is unsurprising.

Stockyard Queen said...

Jean, you might want to look at this--I won't say "enjoy" it because it was one of the most depressing things I ever read in my life, but it's very enlightening: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/08/AR2010110804634.html

And I'm sorry, but I don't agree with you about these activities that the rodeoing girls participate in being sports. I consider horsemanship a skill (and a damned difficult one to excel at), but I don't think that just because horsemanship is involved, the activity is a sport.

Jean said...

I can't believe I made myself read the entire article. It's everything I expected and more lol.

Shawk said...

I have to express some relief that the PBR didn't trumpet that Pellam bucked off, as if no men ever buck off bulls, especially when they are new to the big (well, bigger) leagues.

I grew up with a lot of girls who did barrel racing, and I always had some disdain for it-- not that people who enjoy it shouldn't be able to do it and excel at it, but that it was sort of this tacked on thing for the girls. There is no real reason women and girls shouldn't be able to participate in other rodeo events and its high time the NHRA and others get with the program.

I think that anyone who wants to ride bulls for a living is a bit crazy, but I love to watch them. Crazy people riding bulls has nothing to do with gender. Rodeo and bull riding being entrenched in gender stereotypes, well, that's a whole other topic.

Thanks for the interesting post! I hope Pellam wasn't a one shot thing, or that people will bring her up as if one woman not doing brilliantly her first time out is proof why women can't ride bulls.

Stockyard Queen said...

I didn't particularly want to see (or hear) that Pellam had bucked off, but the PBR's lack of follow-through is one of my biggest issues with the organization. It happens when folks get hurt, and it also appears to happen when something doesn't turn out exactly the way they'd hoped it would. It seems to me that if you bring it up, you have an obligation to keep reporting on it till it's played out.

Stockyard Queen said...

BTW, folks, I don't know what is going on with the Zonkboard. It's down everywhere, including its home page. Let's hope it returns shortly.

shannon said...

That banning females thing is frustrating and should be challenged. I can't think of any reason why a woman shouldn't be able to ride whatever she wants in whatever organization. When I went to a small town rodeo in Iowa, I was also irritated with the fact that not only were they going to score the female bull rider no matter what, but that she accepted that rule!

As for women being able to ride bulls successfully, I still remember Ty contradicting himself during his Celebrity Bull Riding Show. During an interview he said it wasn't possible for a woman to ride at that level because of upper body strength or some such nonsense. Then, in one show, he brought in Brian Canter to show that "it wasn't all about brute strength".

I'd love to see a woman go all the way in the PBR one day.

Stockyard Queen said...

I understand that Ty and Jewel are having a baby boy, but it would have been interesting to see how they would have dealt with if they'd had a daughter who grew up wanting to ride bulls.

nancy said...

I agree with your comment, S., that crazy people riding bulls has nothing to do with gender. I also believe that the ability to competently judge a bull ride has nothing to do with gender OR whether or not you've actually been on a bull. For whatever reason it's absolutely galling to me that the PBR can't put together a competent judging system and seem to be unable to comprehend that properly trained individuals of any gender, who have an eye for angle, composition or total excellence of a bull ride, can and should be certified to judge at events of all levels. The same goes for judges of all nationalities, too.

Wild Blue Frontier said...

I can honestly say I have been 'dampered' by those stupid, ridiculous rules put into associations like that and not only associations...regions as well. I grew up in Georgia and wanted to ride since I was 5 and didnt get a chance to until I moved to Oklahoma and was able to finally pursue my dream which was just last year and I was 20! I just recently moved back east so we'll have to see how women are accepted here. But I have a friend who has been denied membership into a certain association because she checked bull riding as her event and they denied her membership when in their rule book it clearly states that no one will discriminated based on gender, color or age etc...and it never states women are not allowed. it's aggravating, but she just keeps on trucking.

Stockyard Queen said...

WBF--first off, welcome to Turn Him Out! Second, I am so sorry that you've suffered because of this rampant, stupid sexist crap. I vote we put ALL the male rough stock riders and ALL the male rodeo executives in the country on buses, make them all sit in the back, and take them to a fancy restaurant, where they will all be refused service. Maybe then they'll get a little taste of their own medicine.

shawn said...

as a bull rider i had the same mentality that girls can and should ride bulls my son started riding at 7 years old when my daughter turned seven she wanted to start riding after enough presisting on her part i gave in figureing shed get bucked and get it out of her system but she took to it and rides better then the boys do it broke my heart when i told her she couldnt join the jr ohsra and ride bulls my views and those of the rest of us are wrong i would love to see more female bullriders in every level

Jessie Knadler said...

So fascinating. Is it possible for a female bullrider to still compete and gain recognition in the industry (like Pellam did to some extent) while bypassing NHRSA events? Are there other big rodeo organizations/governing bodies that allow women to compete in rough stock events? I'm trying to get a sense of NHRSA's influence and importance.

Stockyard Queen said...

Hi, Jessie--just for safety's sake, to make sure the NHSRA hadn't suddenly come to its senses in the past year and joined the 21st century, I moseyed over to that site and checked the rule book. This is what it says:

"Boys events at the NHSFR include Bareback Riding, Bull Riding, Saddle Bronc Riding, Tie-Down Roping, Steer Wrestling, Team Roping, and Cutting. Girl's events include Breakaway Roping, Barrel Racing, Pole Bending, Goat Tying, Cutting, Team Roping, and the NHSRA Queen contest. Boys and girls compete together in Team Roping, but are separate in all other events."

Just to keep the snark going, please observe the incorrect form of the possessive on "boys," which should be "boys'." And I do think it's sweet, I really do, that boys and girls can "compete together" in team roping, arguably the third dumbest rodeo sport in existence, the first two being goat tying and barrel racing. I'd say the absolute dumbest event on this list is the Queen competition, but since nobody in his or her right mind would argue that's a sport, we will pass that one by for the moment.

That said, the simplest answer to your question is yes, it is possible for a woman who is absolutely determined to ferret out venues where she could compete in rough-stock events, as Kaylynn Pellam did. Unfortunately, it would take considerable research to find that information, but certainly it could be done.

But I would also say that the biggest injustice that arises from the ass-backward rules of the NHSRA is that girls and young women growing up in--let's face it--mostly rural areas never really attempt those sports in the first place, because even if they turned out to be great at them, they would have no opportunity to compete. Riding practice bulls in your daddy's ring might be fun for a while, but if you can't reasonably expect to go any further than that, you'd probably eventually lose interest, especially if your younger brother got to enter a rodeo but you were barred from competing.

I don't know anything about Ms. Pellam beyond what I read in the media, but I think it's fair to surmise that she knew from a young age that she wanted to ride bulls, and she pursued that goal like a house afire. That's not the way your average person, whether male or female, approaches new experiences. Most of us need a chance to see if we like something before we are willing to do whatever it takes to participate.

What will have to happen is some parent will have to get her (or his) back up and sue the NHSRA within an inch of its life to get her (or his) daughter(s) admitted to the rough stock events. To my knowledge, nobody has yet had the inclination or the guts to press the issue that far.

Jessie Knadler said...

So interesting. THanks for the insight!