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.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Shannon in Anaheim

Once again, devoted readers, the Divine Shannon has schlepped off down to Anaheim to see the boys and the bulls, and has sent us this sterling description. Since things have been a bit different at the PBR this season, I found this first report of a live event very enlightening. Ladies and gentlemen, I invite you to read it for yourselves. Shannon speaks!

The PBR in the OC

I can honestly say that for about 95% of the time in Anaheim, I had a great time, but yes, things have changed with the live show. To me, they were only slightly annoying, but it’s possible that others are very bothered by them. If you get lucky enough to get to a live show this year, I’d be interested to hear what you think about it. From the reports I heard about NYC, I think they’ve gotten a bit more of their act together.

Now, once again (and, as usual, with less about the rides and more about the experience) and with thanks to SQ, I give you my annual guest blog.


It seems as though safety and liability are now a bigger priority for the new owners. I realized this as soon as we headed to the Fan Zone only to have to sign a waiver to set foot on a flat concrete floor with some camera equipment on it. Okay. Whatever. Guilherme was standing just a few feet away from us—I’d have signed a promise to name my next kid after the bull of the year to chat with him. Besides, it only takes a minute. However, later that evening, the liability issue got even more eye-roll worthy when we were subjected to a big, red WARNING! sign flashing on the video screens and our new female voice explaining that the show opens with loud explosives and strobe lights and if you are sensitive to these things, you may want to spend the next few minutes on the concourse. Talk about taking the fun out of it! I know that some people are afraid of loud noises and, if it’s their first time, they may not be aware it’s coming, but still. My friend Sonja noted, though, that the voice sounded almost sarcastic, as if she were saying, “I’m told that it’s my job to warn you that you may actually hear some loud noises and see a light show at this highly adrenalized sporting event.” With that done, we were treated to the usual opening with even more fire, more fireworks, and more lights, but less pomp and circumstance—there were no patriotic flag bearing military members and no swearing-in of new troops. All the riders were introduced and stayed out on the floor throughout the national anthem (sung by an Aussie—I wonder how all of the “This is AMERICA!” people felt about that!) and we heard one of the nicest prayers I think I’ve ever heard at a PBR event. Then the show was on!

This Section is Brought to You By…..

Sponsors! Yes, the name of the game is definitely money. We got commercials before the show. We got another voice telling us, at the beginning of each flight, that this section was being sponsored by this company. And I thought a bit less of Flint would be a good thing. I understand the need to satisfy sponsors, but I really thought having their name plastered all over the arena and the riders, not to mention their booths out on the concourse, their female, barely dressed, assistants and, in the case of Rock Star, having a rider flashing their beverage at the camera, would be enough, but I guess not. Oh, and just a quick note to the new producers: You may want to do another filming of the ad where Flint talks about the PBR store. You do know that he’s not sponsored by Enterprise anymore, right?

Bull Power

The bull power was actually better than I’ve seen in the past. Only 12 rides on Friday and not many more on Saturday. Stormy, J.B., Skeeter, Ryan D., Silvano, McKennon, Guilherme, Mike Lee, and Renato gave us some great rides. In terms of the actual rides and bulls, this was one of the more exciting events I can remember. I wonder, though, what happened to Chad Berger. I think this is the first year I haven’t seen him or his bulls in Anaheim,

Bushwacker is in the House!!!

Okay, so he only came out once and we only saw him for about 2 ½ seconds, but this is one magnificent creature! His bucking style is just electrifying and I feel privileged to have been able to see him work in person.

Fans: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (and the Humorous!)

I love people-watching. There are so many that make you smile, some that make you laugh and some that make you go, “hmmm…..”. And of course, we had it all in Anaheim. There were the two um…what’s a good way to put this?...hoochies, I guess, who were able to navigate up and down the stairs in the skimpiest of outfits (miniskirts that barely covered their butts, lacy bras showing, and enough fake bling to light up the dark winter sky ) complete with, I’m not kidding you, at least 3-1/2″ spiked pumps! Rick, shaking his head and catching the shocked look on the people behind us, said, “One day, they’ll develop some self esteem”. Amen to that.

Then there were the two old guys in the audience who tried to not only one-up each other, but also Flint, with their (not so great) dancing skills. I wish he hadn’t engaged them so often—it got old really fast. There was the cutest little girl (about 5) with braided pigtails tied with ribbons, wearing a pink plaid, button-up shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots who broke our hearts afterward when she set her eyes on her favorite rider, not realizing that he had already passed (thinking he was on his way), and shouted in her little, excited voice, “Ryan Dirteater!” Then there was me and Son…um, I mean…the two 40-something-year-olds who won-Boot Barn boy cut underwear and got some of the more light-hearted riders to sign them. There were many laughs and smiles, the biggest from Valdiron and Silvano. We were shocked when Kasey was up for it and laughed when McKennon, who happily signed them, said that he didn’t have a sunburn from his afternoon surfing, that he was actually blushing. Yeah, right.

One final thing: If Skeeter Kingsolver continues to stay strong and in the BFTS, watch for him to get as popular as J.B. The crowd was very happy to see him when he was announced, and the applause was practically deafening on Saturday after his short go-ride.

Surprise, Surprise!

Many of the riders were very nice to talk to. They were much more responsive than usual, and we really appreciated it. The three best moments of the weekend were:

1. Ryan Dirteater remembering the gift that Amelia made him after he got hurt the last time and spent a few minutes with her talking about it. He put a little something extra in her autograph and said that the gift was still displayed on his shelf. He seemed sincere, but even if he didn’t really bother to keep it, I appreciate that he told her he did.

2. Rick getting a smile from Silvano when he said, in Spanish, “It was a good night. You had good luck.” At first, he looked shocked (because Rick does not look like someone who can speak such good Spanish with such an excellent accent), then smiled and answered back. He then proceeded to misinterpret the action of the little boy next to us, who turned to say something to his mother just as he approached, and assume that the little guy wanted his shirt signed across the shoulder. The mother let it go without comment and just grinned.

3. With all due respect to our resident Minion, I’d just about given up on ever seeing J.B. Mauney after an event. Since my first visit to a PBR event 5 years ago (and I go all two or three nights), I have only seen him out twice, and that was years ago. Butlast night, just as we were about to leave because there wasn’t a rider in sight, Dalton said, “Oh wait—there’s one more who just came out.” We were thrilled, not only that he came out when the kids were there, but he was actually engaging in conversation. Rick said “Man, I have never seen a ride so rank as yours tonight in the short-go,” to which he responded “You and me both—and I was tied to the back of him!” Then he let me take a picture of him, the kids, and Rick (he’s Rick’s favorite rider).

I Don’t Want to See Someone Die

I don’t recall the topic of the conversation we had on this board last season—if it was the helmet issue, or that genetic engineering is producing bulls that are tougher and tougher, but I do recall SQ saying that one day, we’re going to witness the death of a rider on live tv. [SQ: It was about helmets—read it again here, if you’re interested.] After the drama of Beau’s accident, McKennon’s ride immediately followed. It happened so quickly, it was shocking. The helmet went flying and he hit his head on the bull and fell off, unconscious before he even hit the ground. Things came to a stunning and frightening halt. The woman in front of me, a fan that I’ve met many times, sat rocking in her seat with her hand over her mouth. I was intently watching to see if he was breathing, convinced that if he was, he’d surely have fractured many facial bones (thankfully, after a couple of minutes, I realized that if he wasn’t breathing, we’d be seeing some CPR). Rick was watching intently to see if any fingers or a foot moved. Nothing. Simply nothing. I don’t think any of us had ever been so scared in our lives. After he was brought out—still unresponsive and, according to those on the floor afterward, he never woke up on his way to the ambulance—we were held on standby until one of the ambulances returned. There was no music, nothing from Flint. The people in front of us left. Some of us didn’t feel like getting excited for the next two rides. However, we did rally and gave Silvano and Skeeter the applause they deserved for their great rides and a very close 1-2 margin. Then we made it down to the floor, where we met the guys, who, like I said, were much more chatty than usual. I guess after something like that, talking—whether it’s about the accident itself or mindless stuff—can be healing. It sounds odd to be grateful that McKennon only has to deal with a broken jaw and surgery, but given what we saw, that’s a very good prognosis.

Final Thoughts

When I started hearing complaints about the NYC event and saw all the glitches in the televised events, I was thinking that I may not buy another membership this year if it’s that bad. All in all, though, we still had a good time and the changes, while annoying, are ones I can deal with, so I’ll be renewing my membership for another year. In fact, I’m considering going to Fresno. If I do, you’ll be the first to know.

Thanks for allowing me to ramble, SQ! I’ll be interested to hear what all of you think about this weekend’s event.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What I Hated about the New York Broadcasts

Sunday morning was just pretty damned dismal around the Stockyard, folks. We had watched the broadcast of the PBR event from Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, and we were dreading, literally dreading, what we might see on Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, our worst fears were realized, and we also suffered additional atrocities that we just weren't prepared to handle. Here, in roughly the order that it all unfolded, is our joint list of disasters.

1. The voice of the man who does the intro voice-over. Honestly, this dude sounds like he just finished mucking out the barn in Cheyenne Wells, Colorado, before scraping the manure off his boots and heading to the microphone. I thought (mistakenly, apparently) that you didn’t have to be “country” to appreciate the sport of bull riding. Using this man for the intro pretty much knocks that notion into a cocked hat. Hearing him makes me want to chew on a straw and swig moonshine out of a little brown jug. And spit.

2. The voice of the woman who does the “coming up” voice-overs. Why is it that with the notable exception of Leah Garcia (who, as I have said before, actually could get away with taking her shirt off), virtually every woman featured on a PBR broadcast dresses like a hooker and talks like a provender of phone sex? (At one point on Saturday night, I turned to Montana Barn Cat and asked, “Who is that slut in the Daisy May shirt on top of the chutes?" Turned out she was the Rockstar girl.) This woman’s disembodied voice does nothing to persuade us otherwise.

3. The absence of Justin McKee. Did I hear anything interesting about a single bull this weekend? NO! Did I learn ANYTHING at all about any of the new bulls? NO! Can you connect the dots here?

If you concur with this sentiment, I urge you to email your objections to the PBR at admin@pbrnow.com. You can also try emailing Jeffrey Pollack directly at jeffrey@pbr.com, though I haven’t heard that he’s replied to anybody at this point.

4. The eternal lectures on the mechanics of bull riding. I have always loved Ty Murray, but if I have to put up with this endless nattering every time he’s on, I am going to learn to love him a lot less. I have already heard it so much I’m qualified to coach, as are most of my distinguished readers.

5. The abuse of the Telestrator. Anybody can draw circles around names on one of these contraptions. Either do something interesting with it, or give it the deep six. We really don’t need any further reminders about how clueless many of the PBR folks seem to be about technology—the big Live Event Center meltdown and the unconscionable screw-up with Cody Campbell on Sunday did that plenty effectively.

6. The ridiculous lack of information about each ride. About all we could really count on learning was the name of the rider. Reporting the name of the bull, the bull score, or even the final ride score—even one item at a time—all seemed to be beyond the abilities of the production team. If this is what David Neal meant when he said he wanted to “unclutter” the broadcasts, he can give me back the clutter right now. I might have to sic Niecy Nash on his ass.

7. The absence of Justin McKee. Maybe Neal really meant that he thought all that information McKee routinely provided about the bulls was just “cluttering up” people’s heads. He. Was. Wrong.

8. The perfectly idiotic features, like the clip with Brendon Clark and the Naked Cowboy and the Truth Booth. Does David Neal really think this stuff is funny? Or is he just so entranced with Clark’s charming (not!) accent that he loses his head whenever the Aussie opens his mouth?

9. The inexcusable omission of an interview with Valdiron de Oliveria after he won on Sunday. When is the PBR going to accept that most of its key riders speak Portuguese and hire a translator? Anybody with any sense at all would have done so long ago, if only to make sure someone would be on hand to help if one of the Brazilians got hurt.

10. The sight of Ben Jones’ missing teeth. I really appreciate Jones’ almost tearful acknowledgment of the PBR’s role in turning his life around, but surely the man has made enough money by now to get some dental work done. When I see him, I feel like I’m looking at Lil’ Abner. Maybe he and the Rockstar girl should get together. It might be a match made in heaven.

11. The long gaping silences while the cowboy in the chute got ready to ride. To that, I credit items number 3 and 7. Maybe if McKee had been on the scene, fewer people might have noticed how long de Oliveria took to get out of the chute on his last ride. Granted, the man did take a shot to the head just as he was about ready to go, but he was still in there longer than he needed to be.

12. The most damning fact about our experience is that when we were waiting for the short-go to start on Saturday night, I got BORED. The last time I was bored during a PBR broadcast was the big Tulsa fiasco of 2008. Remember that?

Though I have read that David Neal has something like 30 years experience in production, none of it showed during this broadcast. I don’t know if he’s trying to get by on the cheap, or if he’s just vastly misreading his audience, or both, or something else entirely, but I can tell you right now that I am not looking forward to another 29 broadcasts like the one last weekend.

And I categorically reject the suggestion that he just needs to "work the bugs out." If you sell yourself as making big improvements in a broadcast, the improvements need to be evident, front and center, from the get-go--no bugs, no glitches, perfect the first time. No. Damned. Excuses.

And, oh—did I mention? Bring back Justin McKee! NOW!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Bring Back Justin McKee

Here’s a news flash I’m sure you don’t give a damn about: Early as it is in the academic year, the scholars of this world are working their fingers to the bone, and consequently, so am I. In the three seconds I have to myself every day, I ponder their absolutely astounding productivity with amazement, awe, and not a little fear, because it means I, too, will be working like a Trojan for the foreseeable future. Trust me, I am not complaining—too many people are out of work for me to ever feel anything less than hugely grateful that I’m as busy as I am. Scholars of the world, call on me! I will not let you down.

A side effect of all this, however, is that I haven’t really carved out time to comment on developments in the PBR for a while. In many cases, this is good, because it means I don’t snark off about every little bit of information that strikes me the wrong way, right out of the chute.

Contrary to what you might think, I am not somebody who likes being pissed off all the time. I’m just not. For one thing, it can’t possibly be good for me physically to constantly be all amped up on adrenaline and pawing the ground like an angry, er, bull. For another, if you let things sit for a bit, you usually find out they aren’t nearly as hair-raising as you first thought. But an announcement on the PBR website last week pretty much put me into orbit, and since I haven’t landed yet, I’m going to have to speak up.

And you all know what’s coming, don’t you? What on earth were the head honchos at the PBR thinking when they fired Justin McKee?

In the years that we have been gathering here, we have all seen changes come and go with the PBR, including a lot of stuff that hasn’t stuck to the wall and some that has. But this one is so out of left field, so completely counter-intuitive, that as Ruby is wont to say, I cannot even figure out which end of it to pull on.

So let’s just lay all the pieces out and take a look at them, here, before we start trying to put them together. On December 28, the PBR issued a press release with some details about the 2011 TV schedule. It extolled the virtues of the new production company, David Neal Productions, and roughly halfway down the page, it just sort of mentioned the fact that the commentators this year will be Craig Hummer, Ty Murray, Justin McBride, and J.W. Hart. Oh, and some woman named Erin who will supposedly be working with Leah Garcia. I daresay I’ll have more to say about that later.

If somebody at headquarters thought the implications of this list might go unnoticed, that person was in for a very rude awakening. It might have taken three seconds for PBR fans to discern what it meant, and then the comments board lit up like a pinball machine. The bottom line is that Michael Gaffney and Justin McKee will NOT be in the booth this year.

Now, I like Michael Gaffney well enough, as much as it’s possible to like somebody that you only see on TV every couple of weeks. He earned his stripes in the bull riding trade, and he seems like a genuinely nice guy. But NOBODY in the current lineup brings the wealth of information about the bulls to the table that McKee routinely reeled off, and NOBODY had the same, dare I say it, boyish enthusiasm for the bulls that shines out of him. When it comes to loving the bulls, and studying
up on them, the man gets up every day with his hair on fire.

What more could you possibly ask of a commentator? He filled a need in the booth that none of the rest of these guys seemed even remotely interested in, beyond the usual crap about how these are the best bulls in the world, yak yak, blah blah. McKee KNOWS WHY they are the best bulls in the world, and furthermore, he can TELL you WHY without making you wish you could tape his mouth shut. The stuff that he can reel off is absolutely astounding. I have learned more about the sport from Justin McKee than I have learned from ALL the rest of the commentators combined.

Just let me say here that I know for an absolute fact that it was not McKee's decision to leave the PBR, because the man told me so himself two days ago. Yes, I did email him at McKeeRanch.com, and he was kind enough to reply to somebody he'd never heard of.

It is often fascinating to watch the machinations of private organizations, precisely because such outfits are not obliged to be transparent. I don’t know whether this decision was made by some outside consultant, by some insider who has had it in for McKee for a while (and believe me, that shit happens everywhere, most frequently, in my experience, in companies that describe themselves as “families”), or by Jeffrey Pollack himself. But I am weighing in here, and I hope to hell somebody will hear me AND every other fan who has been wanting to lose his/her shoes in the PBR board’s collectives asses since this was announced.

This decision is a huge mistake.

Bring back Justin McKee.