Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Bang and/or a Whimper

Another PBR season has come to a close, and boy, as you can probably imagine, do I have something to say about it.  But before we get into any banging or whimpering, let's start off with a hearty congratulations to J.B. Mauney, who staged what was, if not the most amazing comeback "in sports history" (seriously, Craig, histrionic much?), certainly an extremely impressive run.  He's a very talented rider and it all finally came together for him this year.  And also congratulations to Joao Ricardo Vieira for a stunning debut year that netted him the Rookie of the Year award, and of course to the very deserving Bushwacker for Bull of the Year and Jeff Robinson for Stock Contractor of the Year.

But-- and you knew there was going to be a but-- I have some real issues with the way the Finals played out and the aftermath.  While it couldn't have been clearer that the PBR would love J.B. Mauney winning this 20th anniversary year (or any year), the issues had little to do with him.  He was doing his job, which was riding bulls.  Whether you agree with the scoring at the event or not (and I'm not sure each of J.B. Mauney's rides was truly 88.75 or better), he doesn't control the scoring, and in the end, it probably didn't matter. (I will leave the analysis of Silvano Alves' turned down re-rides to someone better at math than I.)  Where the true problem comes in is the extremely ugly undertone to much of the commentary surrounding the Finals and many fan reactions, and it all makes me very uncomfortable.

It doesn't help that the PBR feels the need to put country flags next to the names in the rankings on the TV broadcast -- a sea of Brazilian flags with a lonely American flag here and there, a buoy of hope is what the commentators seem to imply.  But why? This isn't the Olympics; it's man versus bull, not country versus country.  But you wouldn't know it from some of the commentary, which went on about the possibility of draping the American flag over the winner and fed all sorts of 'us versus them' fantasies.  It also doesn't help that the commentators tend to say "the Brazilian" this and "the Brazilian that," as if that is the first name of all the Brazilians in the PBR.  And there was even a moment where they were saying something about how the crowd was on their feet, screaming for J.B. Mauney, but silent for Silvano Alves.  If that is indeed true, how tacky, but did it need to be said, and with such breathless wonder?

But most of all, what bothered me was the fan comments.  It's as if  all the machismo of the "American Cowboy Way," all the hopes and dreams of some commentators and many American fans, was placed upon J.B. Mauney, and his winning would validate all the repressed (well, and expressed) white male angst that a cautious guy from Brazil who plays the odds came up here and trounced the competition twice in a row.  Throughout the run up to the Finals and after the conclusion, Twitter, Facebook, and I'm sure elsewhere blew up with people going on and on about how J.B. is a "true cowboy" who takes on the best bulls, unlike that coward Silvano, and no Brazilians ever choose the tough bulls, and all that other crap we've heard before, but now with a note of hysteric triumph that their guy won, and won their way.  The right way.  The American way.

Let's ignore Valdiron  de Oliviera choosing Bushwacker in ABQ, and Joao Ricardo Vieira seeming pretty adamant he can ride anything, Guilherme Marchi's hot streak, and any other inconvenient facts here and and focus on the sentiment -- that even though the PBR has set up a game with a variety of ways to play it, and Silvano's way worked twice in a row and almost worked a third, the only legit way to win is apparently to win the way some American fans want you to win.  Not to mention, be an American.

I'm not even going to get into some of the blatantly racist things I have seen on the internet, because I don't see any value in giving those people any of my time.  But this creeping ugliness is really disturbing.  No one has to like Silvano Alves (although hopefully people can acknowledge that he was a class act about his loss).  No one has to like his strategy (and to be honest, I was baffled by it sometimes).  Everyone is free to prefer whatever riders they want.  I'd agree that if all of the PBR was full of riders with Silvano's strategy, it wouldn't be very exciting.  

But people shouldn't feel free to say that a two time world champion, who has ridden many a tough bull over his career and stayed on bulls in amazingly sticky ways, is a coward and/or not a true cowboy, merely because he plays the game his own way and is from another country.  That sickens me, especially when it's clear that for many, this is based in a really horrible place, and it further disgusts me that in an attempt to ramp up the excitement, the PBR has tacitly encouraged this kind of 'us versus them' mentality.

So here's hoping for a new season that is about the best cowboys versus the best bulls, no matter the country of origin of either, and for balanced commentary that doesn't fan any flames.