Tuesday, September 27, 2011

In Memoriam

Last week, we all received the news of the passing of PBR superstar Little Yellow Jacket. It had been a while since I had heard anything about the three-time bull of the year, and I simply imagined he was relaxing in a pasture somewhere between Tom Teague’s place in North Carolina and the Berger Bucking Bulls HQ in Mandan, North Dakota. Lots of stud service, I figured. And I am sure that was true in both locations and beyond via straw sales. So I was taken by surprise when I heard that my old pal from my favorite TV show had crossed over the Great Divide, as we say out here in Montana.

The news took instantly me back to the glassed-in back porch of our house in East Los Angeles. It was a typically overly warm summer evening (we did not have air conditioning), and I was flipping through the cable listings when I ran across Professional Bull Riding. “Bull riding, eh?” I thought, “Could be worth a look.” This was in 2001, and Little Yellow Jacket was just a little shaver, although still plenty formidable. I took to watching bull riding right away. I knew a quite a bit about rodeo, and as the curator of a major collection at one of the world’s greatest museums of Western American culture, I knew ALL about cowboy traditions and cowboyness. It was the bulls that really grabbed me, though. I was, and still am, just fascinated by those amazing, athletic animals.

Inevitably, my lovely Stockyard Queen stepped out onto the porch, most likely with a cold beer in her hand. “Uh, what is this, a rodeo?” she asked. “Professional bull riding! ‘This ain't no RODEO!’” I responded, parroting the proud pronouncement that I had only heard for the first time myself a few minutes before. “Check out this bull action!” And she did. I was surprised that she gravitated to the bulls right away, just as I had, and it was not long after that we were hooked.

There were giants in the land in those days—literally. Blueberry Wine and Mossy Oak Mudslinger, Moody Blues and Dillinger. We loved those bulls and got to know them by their personalities (as well as you can ever know a TV star’s personality). One of those bulls rapidly became our favorite, however: Little Yellow Jacket. We could tell right away that he was something special.

For the two of us, he was the ambassador of the PBR. When we talked to our colleagues at work or to our family or friends about our new obsession with bull riding—and rooting for the bulls—they usually gave us a selection of cock-eyed and skeptical looks. “Bulls? Really? ” “Yes, REALLY!” we told them, “There’s this bull named Little Yellow Jacket and he is so smart, so well trained, that he busts out of the chute, does his job of throwing a cowboy, and then stops dead still right there in the arena and looks straight at the crowd. He’s showing off! He’s clearly saying ‘I’m the big daddy in this house and don’t you forget it!’”

Our friends mostly thought we were crazy, but they did like the stories we continued to tell them about Little Yellow Jacket’s ongoing triumphs. When he won Bull of the Year in 2002, we told everyone, “See, I told you that bull had promise.” One year, one of our friends even made us a Little Yellow Jacket Christmas ornament that we always hang proudly on our tree.

Over the years, we have come to appreciate the amazing feats of the PBR’s human competitors as well. We still miss Justin McKee in the PBR announcer’s chair (remember that guy?), and we are happy that we can say we saw Adriano win this second PBR championship back in 2001.

More than anything else about our 10 years as PBR fans, however, we will always remember Little Yellow Jacket. His crooked horn, his incredible strength, and most of all his endearing sense of style in the arena made him a symbol of everything that is right about Professional Bull Riding. Even now, in 2011, when the Queen and I sit in front of our much-larger TV in the living room of our air-conditioned house in Montana, when we see a particularly spectacular bull performance, there’s a good chance that one of us will be thinking “Yep, that reminds me of that yellow bull from Mandan, good ol’ Little Yellow Jacket.”

Happy trails, Pardner!

Friday, September 2, 2011

I'm Mad as Hell

Dear friends, in the weeks since Pearl de Veres posted her spot-on analysis of the PBR drug controversy, we have continued to see reports about it that have ranged from thoughtful commentary to outright rumor to completely crazy conspiracy theories that have just about made our heads spin around backward.

Despite the temptation to share the wildest (and naturally, the least trustworthy), however, I want to direct your attention to two pieces that were published in the Stephensville Empire-Tribune. The first, which appeared on August 20, describes the drug-testing process at the Thackerville event. The second, published a week later, discusses the fallout from the discovery that one of the bulls tested positive for steroids there, a full six weeks after PBR officials warned the stock contractors that they would be testing all competing bulls in Thackerville.

I am recommending these two articles to you not only because they are authoritative and comprehensive, but also, and most damning, because we have still not heard one official word in response from the PBR about this frightening mess. Let me repeat that: Not. One. Word. I have been looking at the website almost constantly since this whole thing raised its ugly head, and there has not been one word posted about it. I have even, I am sorry to state, watched PBR Now on the Real F****** Dumb TV network, hoping every week that some fan will slip past the gorgons manning the phones and ask a question, any question, on the subject. Read my lips, people: Not. One. Word.

At this point, the only people we have semi-officially heard from are being quoted in the Stephensville newspaper--the PBR's general counsel, a couple of vets involved in the testing, and Ty Murray, who could hardly get away without being questioned because he lives in the same town. None of that is a substitute for a straightforward statement from the PBR brass.

All of this is leading me toward a conclusion I am loathe to reach, one that pisses me off more than just about anything else I can think of. I really do not want to believe that the men who are running the PBR are a bunch of arrogant dudes who really believe all they have to do is lay down the law, and people will stop thinking and talking about this mess. I've got news for you boys--it ain't gonna happen.

The fans of the PBR do not work for the PBR--in fact, we could make a pretty convincing case that the PBR should be working for the fans if it wants to keep them. The people who run the PBR are not our fathers, or our husbands, and they are for damned sure not our bosses. They can't expect us to do what they tell us to just because they apparently think they are gods and we will quail for fear of being struck dead if we question their authority. We don't have to believe that they have our best interests at heart.

In fact, this ridiculous silence only suggests the opposite--they are hiding some even bigger atrocity than we have thus far supposed, or they are covering somebody's ass (possibly several somebodies, possibly several very big somebodies), or worst of all, they are trying to save their own bacon. None of these possibilities bodes well for the sport.

One article on the subject is still to come from the Stephensville Empire-Tribune. I can't say I'm looking forward to it, but it's obvious that’s the only place I can turn for factual information and analysis of the subject. I invite you all to stay tuned.