Friday, August 8, 2014

Too Much Bull?

The divine Pearl and I hesitate to interrupt your summer break from bull riding, which we are sure you are spending wisely by lolling around the pool, drink in hand. But we feel compelled to direct your attention to this outstanding article, “Too Much Bull,” by Andrea Appleton, which appeared in SB Nation about a month ago. We encourage you to read the whole thing at your convenience, but the premise of the story is that many bull breeders are sending their not-quite-ready-for-the-PBR level bulls to high school rodeos and other events for kids. The bottom line is that these bulls may not be up to the PBR standard, but they are too hot for kids. Obviously, many parents are justifiably very concerned because a lot of kids are getting hurt, some of them very badly, but almost as importantly, many kids are getting discouraged and dropping out of the sport entirely. 

Cody Custer, who is one of the founders of the PBR, is taking this issue on in a startlingly forthright manner. Check out his Facebook page, Answers for Bull Riders by Cody Custer, for his analysis of this situation and his recommendations for fixing it. In a post on July 11, he notes that at the International Finals Youth Rodeo this year, there were about 140 outs on bulls and only 10 qualified rides. With odds like that, it’s no wonder kids are abandoning the sport of bull ridingthese statistics sound like the ones at the big leagues that are being lamented by commentators and fans, and there’s no way that is a good thing for kids learning the ropes.

As Cody Custer and others note, with all the trumpeting about J.B. Mauney and how much money he’s made, young American kids should be pumped up and flocking to the sport.  However, this is not what’s happening. If the current trend continues, we can foresee a time when there will be even fewer American bull riders on the PBR circuit, which is interesting to consider, given the unmistakable antagonism against foreign riders even at this early point.

We thoroughly agree with Custer that the practice of over-matching bulls with young riders should be changed. The people who can change it are those who run the organizations that stage youth rodeos—they need to be getting bulls (and possibly even steers for the youngest riders) for the events that are appropriately rank for each age level, but are not eliminators.

We would also like to point out that one way to deepen the ranks of young talent is to quit banning half of it from participating, namely, young women. Yes, we’ve ridden this horse before, but it’s not dead yet, and thus we plan to continue beating it.

We have seen some mumblings about how much even PBR stock contractors get paid per out (hint: it’s not a lot), and we can’t imagine that outs at high-school and lower-level kids’ events pay in some spectacular fashion. (There’s probably not a lot of money in breeding fees and advertising for high school rodeo stock, either.) We get that making a living as a stock contractor, especially a stock contractor not in the leagues of, say, a Jeff Robinson, is not an easy proposition—with droughts, high feed costs, and all the rest that goes with it, nobody (well, hardly anybody) is making a fortune. 

But regardless of the struggles of stock contractors, the short-sightedness of taking over-rank bulls to events for kids, and thereby discouraging or even seriously injuring youngsters for a measly pay-out, is obvious. Besides the youth organizations themselves being more stringent about what stock they accept at their rodeos, the only other solution we can see would lie with the successful PBR stock contractors and the PBR itself. If they invest in the future riders of America and the future of the sport by forming some kind of non-profit organization to supply appropriate stock to high school and other events for children, maybe there’s a way out of this mess.

If, on the other hand, those who could help choose to look away, then we anticipate a day when there will be even fewer bull riders from the United States, and we anticipate that day arriving sooner rather than later. If young riders get paired with too-rank bulls too often at the beginning of their careers, they may decide they're not having enough fun to justify the pain and the discouragement. That would be a shame not only for the individual rider, but for the future of professional bull riding as well.