Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Church of Mauneyology

The new season is upon us, and as you may have guessed, excitement is in short supply here at THO. A sport that once brought us joy now brings us, well, a sadly unsurprising yet positively unhinged stream of Mauney propaganda.

We begin with an early Christmas present (of coal, perhaps), as a sports marketing and PR roundup site discussed the PBR's "new" strategy.  There is some interesting information buried in there, including that the PBR "has lost its place among the conversation of emerging properties." However, the PBR's plan to get back in the conversation?  A focus on "gritty and intriguing personalities," headlined by the "quintessential swaggering cowboy J.B. Mauney, who rode through pain to win his second PBR World Championship."  Hm, the PBR's "new" strategy sounds an awful lot like their old strategy to me, just now more relentless than ever before.

And more just before Christmas, as Variety covered the PBR's upcoming "Danger on the Dirt" special, which according to them would "highlight the league’s top contenders, who are marquee names on the bull riding circuit: J.B. Mauney, Jared Allen, Jesse Byrne, Tanner Byrne and first-time world finalist Bonner Bolton." Maybe Variety just doesn't know what they're talking about, but two of those names aren't contenders in any fashion, and their definition of "marquee" seems suspect in general. Also, apparently no Brazilians are marquee names or contenders?

Then there was the PBR's own press release about the TV special, which they humbly called "extraordinary."  Interestingly, they actually came out and said it was about "key storylines," which is not a surprise, but it is quite special of them to pump up storylines they themselves created.  Speaking of pumping up, J.B. Mauney is "featured prominently in the documentary" (surprise!), is the "biggest star," and has a "gun-slinging persona." And that's just them getting warmed up!
“Danger on the Dirt” goes even deeper inside the head of a quintessential American cowboy who picks the rankest bulls, does not want your sympathy for his latest broken bone and sets sky-high personal expectations starkly contrasting a softening “everyone-gets-a-trophy” culture.
There's so much to unpack there, I don't know where to start. And that's not the worst of it.
Mauney is elite.  He’s on another level.  There’s no settling back and kicking up one’s feet to admire those trophies.  Win big today, plan to win bigger tomorrow. Following a championship, Mauney’s personal standards merely increase. He wants a few more PBR championships, preferably back to back.
J.B. Mauney's personal goals dovetail so splendidly with the PBR's, I must observe. Having already changed the entire point system to nearly guarantee the conclusion they want, who could be surprised by further engineering from the PBR?  Oh, but wait, we have to make a parting shot at Silvano Alves and his not as great storyline and lack of gun-slinging swagger:
“Having guts and toughness, wanting to slay the dragons, that attitude is imperative to this sport,” Murray said. “You gotta be that fearless gunslinger to be a great bull rider. This isn’t a businessman’s game.”
Glad we had time to squeeze that underhanded moment in, guys.

Apparently that wasn't the full quote, because it gets even better in another press release:
The essence of what J.B. [Mauney] is, is the essence of this sport--having guts, having toughness, wanting to slay the dragons. That attitude is imperative to this sport. You gotta be that fearless gunslinger to be a great bull rider. This isn’t a businessman’s game.--Ty Murray, PBR co-founder and seven-time World Champion Cowboy
Got it, J.B. Mauney is the sport, and "businessmanlike" riders are the worst.

Then the PBR had to again remind us that the "captivating" J.B. is expected to win again this year (and with the new points system tailored just to him, what a surprise that is), in a feature about his 2016 title defense. Also, apparently his "remarkable and historic come-from-behind rally" to overtake Silvano Alves was "emotionally draining for not only Mauney, but fans and fellow riders." I guess they believe that we are all as invested in J.B. Mauney as they are. And apparently J.B. Mauney's injuries are way more fascinating than everybody else's, too!

Mauney is also, it would seem, incredibly oblivious (that's the kind interpretation), because here he is singing the praises of the new points system that was designed to propel him to victory.
The way they have the point system set up now, as long as you make it count at an event you can gather a lot of points for winning rounds,” said Mauney, who explained that it is no longer about who rides the most....It’s about who wins the most.
And who determines who wins the most, my friends? Let us not forget, Lambert, Murray and Mauney all had a part in designing the new point system in the first place! And now, lookee here! The PBR, effective immediately, has given Cody Lambert, Ty Murray, Justin McBride, Luke Snyder and PBR CEO Sean Gleason the power to change (and enforce) the rules at will, starting now (and, in fact, they "will begin procedures effective immediately").

I...somehow think this will not mean increased fairness and transparency (does anyone even know who was on this thing before?). We can question the wisdom of having the guy who chooses the stock and does the draw also getting final say over rules and enforcement, not to mention the CEO being in there, but the gigantic and obvious issue here is that Gleason, Murray, and Lambert have all made it more than clear that they love J.B. Mauney and heavily favor his style of riding; I'm pretty sure that Snyder and McBride, even if they have alternate opinions, could make little headway (and according to another recent article, McBride and Lambert have a close friendship). [Late-breaking news: new rules have been unveiled, and seem fairly decent modifications, even if the underlying system remains flawed and biased.  Not to mention having the same group create, execute and enforce laws is questionable at best.]

So, having pummeled us with a nonstop stream of Mauney media, it's now fairly obvious that if Mauney falters, even with the especially-designed-for-him point system, the ECC could, at a moment's notice, change rules to prop him up or impede others. Will this happen? We shall see. I am not by nature a conspiracy theorist, but the shady way the new point system was designed, the broad powers the ECC apparently wields, and the history of flip-flopping rules do not exactly reassure.

To be clear, I'm not blaming J.B. Mauney here. He didn't make the point system, and he can't help that the PBR won't shut up about him or angling to keep him on top (especially now that he is apparently their entire marketing strategy). As I've said repeatedly, he is a talented rider, and I understand why the PBR likes him. But at this point, assuming I dare attend an event, I am fully expecting Cody Lambert or perhaps Ty Murray to leap out and offer me a free personality profile. Next thing I know, I'll be paying thousands to clear any Brazilian thetans from my aura at the Mauneyology center, and then will deliriously chant, "Dragonslayer! Dragonslayer!" while I jump off couches.

But until such time as I succumb to the brainwashing, there is a whole field of other guys that are getting ignored at best and completely screwed over at worst with this myopic Mauney-mania and endless tinkering with rules to assure an outcome. In a sport where guys get hurt and disappear for months at a time, is this focus on one rider wise? What happens when new viewers picked up from "Danger on the Dirt" tune in to see Mauney buck off, or not appear at all?  What are they supposed to care about then, since the PBR is only interested in J.B., and in a limited fashion, a few other riders? Or what happens when people who want to see a real sport and not an engineered outcome get sick of it all? I guess we'll see this season, assuming we bother to watch.