Saturday, January 19, 2008

On the Bull Draft

We have survived both the PBR event at Madison Square Garden, which featured six hours of televised action, and the Worcester Classic in Massachusetts last weekend, but though we were pretty much sated by last Sunday night, we are already rarin’ to see the event in Sacramento. The big news of the past two events was the bull draft, in which the riders got to choose their bulls for the second round, starting with the top scoring rider and working down.

Throughout both broadcasts and in online forums since then, I’ve heard a lot of talk about how great the bull draft is because it allegedly has resulted in more qualified rides. Frankly, I am skeptical. It’s true that there were more qualified rides than usual at both events, but that’s because the bulls were not, er, first rate. In fact, for the most part we saw what the Stockyard Queen very impolitely labels “the pussy pen.” The only bulls I’d rank as exceptional at both venues were Big Bucks, Copperhead Slinger, and Scene of the Crash. In fact, it seemed like a lot of bulls who usually do better had lackluster trips. Maybe the water on the East Coast doesn’t suit them!

And I am most certainly not convinced that the reason for more qualified rides is that the riders had figured out which bull would guarantee them the best trips. Certainly I think those boys have it in them to choose their bulls based on research, but I doubt very much that’s what’s going on, at least not yet. I don't think bull riders are any less astute than other professional athletes, but I also doubt they spend a lot of time figuring the odds. I know for a fact that Brian Cantor pays no attention to the track record of the bulls, and I know, because I heard it with my own ears, that some of the riders think the draft is a bad idea. They’d much rather show up and take the luck of the draw, which suggests a kind of existentialistic fatalism that I like rather a lot.

So I will withhold judgment on whether the draft is going to make a significant difference in the overall result—I'll need at least one more event. One reason I’m suspicious it is because I am pretty sure that many guys are going to play it safe rather than go for the gold. They will pick the bull they can ride rather than the bull that could make them famous.

There was a notable exception to my cynical assessment last weekend, and that was when Adriano Moraes picked Buffalo Bob, a bull who had thrown him off decisively the two previous times they had met. You can criticize Moraes’ on-again, off-again performances over the past couple of seasons as much as you want, but I say that when he makes up his mind to ride a bull, he is nearly unstoppable. The first time he picked Buffalo Bob in the draft, he didn’t have much choice, since he was picking next to last, and on that occasion, the bull promptly tossed him off. But the second time he had plenty of other options, and Moraes chose the bull he had an uncomfortable history with and rode him for eight seconds.

Josh Peter, who wrote the highly entertaining and informative Fried Twinkies, Buckle Bunnies, & Bull Riders: A Year Inside the Professional Bull Riders Tour, has commented that this sport is about facing your fears, and Adriano showed us just that kind of grit last weekend. Adriano has said on several occasions that when he bucks off, it’s because he gets scared, and you can always tell when his fears are getting the better of him. When he looks off to the left or right in mid-ride, you can pretty much bet that he’s going to land in the dirt. When he tucks his chin and keeps his eyes on the back of the bull, I know he is centered psychically as well as physically, and most likely he will still riding when the horn blows. He is most certainly an exceptional athlete and I am starting to wonder whether he isn’t an artist as well.

The other ride that supports my wait-and-see attitude was Cord McCoy’s astonishing trip on Big Bucks, which, again, was a choice McCoy made when there were only two bulls left in the draft. I love Cord McCoy’s big wide grin and his enthusiasm for the sport, but he’s always seemed a little erratic to me. Last weekend, he proved he can ride the best in the business, and he did it without the advantage of picking a bull he might have gotten an easier trip on.

I was fortunate enough in graduate school to work with Paul Scott, the esteemed British author of The Raj Quartet, and a sentence he wrote in The Jewel in the Crown has always stuck with me: “She showed courage and that’s the most difficult thing in the world for any human being to show and the one I respect most, especially physical courage.” Last weekend in Massachusetts, Moraes and McCoy were in quite different circumstances, but they both stepped up and showed us what they are made of. That, to me, is the essence of the sport—being willing to put yourself in peril to find out if you are capable of greatness. If you can’t ride through your fears, you have no business climbing on the back of a bull.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

On International Copyright Law and Intellectual Property

By now our devoted readers are probably wondering where all those pictures are that we promised when we first fired up this blog. Rest assured that we are working on acquiring some, specifically to illustrate an entry that we hope to generate within a couple of weeks. It might be helpful to you to know, however, why up until now we haven’t posted any images.

The answer is simple: I deal daily with international copyright law and intellectual property issues, so I will not use any image for any purpose, commercial or frivolous, without the express permission of the copyright holder. That means I won’t go grab images off anybody else’s website nor will I scan them out of magazines or newspapers and post them here. If an image appears on this blog, you can bet your boots we have permission to use it, and most likely we will have paid for that privilege. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a photograph provided by the PBR or a breeder, or an original work of art created by one of our many talented artist friends. If it’s here, we have done the homework to use it.

We plan to follow the rules about using content others generate, and we expect others to do likewise for the content they find here. We will not countenance theft from this website. Don’t go lifting anything without permission, because we will find you out and we will not let it go.

Having said all that, we now present our inaugural image, a bucking bull Christmas ornament made for us by our very good friend, the talented artist and children’s book illustrator Jill McElmurry. Jill has written or illustrated such wonderful titles as
Mad for Plaid, Where’s Stretch?, and our all-time favorite, I’m Not a Baby. We recommend her books to you wholeheartedly, especially if you have little ones in your household, but we have to admit that we grown-ups occasionally sneak off to enjoy one of them surreptiously, the same way we might slip down to the kitchen in the middle of the night to polish off the last of the lemon risotto. Hope you enjoy seeing this creation as much as we enjoyed unwrapping it.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

New Year's Resolutions

Finally we are back in the swing, with the PBR season launched last weekend at the Copenhagen Bull Riding Invitational in Atlanta and Mike Lee in the lead. Since it is the first week in January of the New Year, I am offering up some resolutions. In the spirit of fairness, I have made five for myself and six for the PBR, in the hope that the organization will continue improve in more than just ways monetary.

Resolutions for the Stockyard Queen
1. I will pay more attention when I’m simultaneously doing laundry and watching the PBR, so Barn Cat’s best Wranglers don’t come out of the wash with big bleach spots on them (ever again). Likewise for trying not to leave a hot iron sitting on his best dress shirt while I jump up and down and scream at the television.

2. I will at least close the windows and doors during broadcasts, so the neighbors won’t be obliged to cover their children’s ears whenever they pass by my house.

3. On behalf of those few people who see me in the flesh when I attend a PBR event, I will forego the teeny little muscle shirts the PBR merchandises to women at $30 a pop. Actually, I would never spend $30 on any tee-shirt under any circumstances, so the fact that people won’t have to see my girls trying to escape from a too-tight tee-shirt is just gravy.

4. I will do my best not to rant endlessly when I am certain a bull has been scored low because “He don’t love his job.”

5. I will make an honest attempt not to gloat when one of the riders I particularly disdain (and there are several of you, boys) gets pitched off and face planted, particularly after the commentators have bragged for five minutes about how great he is. Or was. Or has the “potential” to be.

Resolutions for the PBR
1. To do away with the flame-shooting bull heads. Today a friend directed me to an article on Yahoo News by Ben Klayman that described the PBR as a cross between NASCAR and a rock concert. Right. Those flame-throwing bull heads are just dumb. What do they possibly add to the experience? More smoke, that’s all, and there was already considerable smoke hanging above the arena before the bull heads appeared. Smoke naturally suggests smoke and mirrors, which is not something the PBR should be encouraging its audience to think about.

2. To abandon the ’80s rock music as well. I have yet to figure out whether the heavy metal tunes we are tortured with are the brainchild of Flint Rasmussen, or of someone higher up the food chain, but please, guys, cut it out. At the very least, you could play more recent stuff. (Yes, somebody has made a record you might like since 1983. I’m positive about this.) And it wouldn’t hurt you to turn the volume down a little.

This practice is really dating you—it makes us wonder if you have progressed a single step since you barricaded yourself in your room during high school and cranked the stereo up to 100 decibels. And now I see on the PBR website a link to “The music of the PBR.” Can you be serious? I know (because I feel the same way) that the music a person grows up with is the best damned music in the world, but the fact that it’s a universal sentiment makes it highly suspect. For the record, I have a couple of decades on practically all of you and I KNOW the Doors will always trounce Van Halen. See my point? Please, give it a rest.

3. To tell the jerk who hits the bulls in the face with a clipboard to just stop it. I know that sometimes bulls don’t cooperate in the chutes, and they kneel down, lie down, and lean on the riders, and that nudging and prodding them is necessary to get them in position and the gate open, but hitting them in the face with a clipboard? Come on! You certainly aren’t doing yourselves any favors with the PETA set, not that we give a particular damn what they think, but there are those among us who love the sport and still think this practice is out of line. Count me as one of them. Even the PRCA dudes use a padded four-by-four instead of a bare-knuckle version to pry the bull off the chute. You would do well to follow their lead in this one instance.

4. To ask the sponsor that manufactures smokeless tobacco to lose the girls in the skintight s&m outfits. One of these days I am going to discourse on the apparent disconnection between the insistence that the PBR is a “G-rated” sport and the constant in-your-face sexiness you can’t escape from at an event, but in the meantime, could we at least be spared the sight of these girls in their leathers and chains? It mystifies me who would think that’s appealing (doubtless the sponsor thinks it appeals to its customers, but that’s a whole different subject), but I’m telling you I find it extremely distasteful. If you can’t put a stop to it, please, at least make them ditch the chains.

5. To encourage your riders to come up with some new descriptions of how they ride. One of the funniest scenes in any sports movie takes place in
Bull Durham, when Kevin Costner helps Tim Robbins work on his baseball-playing clich├ęs. “I just want to go out and contribute to the team and good Lord willin’ and the creeks don’t rise, we’ll win.” Well, in my book, “I just try to ride ’em jump for jump” is fast becoming the dumbest string of words ever uttered. Every sport suffers from this kind of crap, but so many PBR riders repeat the same stuff over and over that I can barely tell them apart. Sure, virtually all the riders are under thirty, and a stack of them are barely more than eighteen, but I really can do without hearing the same tired expressions week after week. It may not be Shakespeare, but Adriano’s advice that a rider “tuck his chin and remember why he’s here” is still a huge improvement. I recommend some riders’ meetings specifically to deal with this issue. Maybe you can get Costner in to coach.

6. To reconsider the premise that spinners should always outscore jumpers. I know that a lot of different factors are at play in judging bull rides, and I know that the judges don’t like bulls who leap and charge out into the arena because the farther away they get from the chutes, the harder it is to see what’s going on, but could you please stop giving 90+ scores to bulls who run five feet out into the dirt and then spin like tops? My GRANDMOTHER could stay on the back of one of those bulls, and bake a cake and adjust her Sunday hat at the same time. I don’t buy the notion that spinners score higher because the riders look so good on them. You guys are getting the big bucks to make the hard calls, so let’s step up and acknowledge that it’s harder to stick to Raindeer Dippin’ when he’s trying to fly than to Ditto when all he does is make the riders carsick.

Even if Raindeer “don’t love his job.”