Great American RodeoThe Sport Born in the West
There’s a lot more to rodeo than just a bunch of uneducated yahoos being mean to cows.Rodeo is a rough sport because it originated from a rough lifestyle. It’s one of the few – – make that only – – sports in America with its roots set solidly in a legitimate livelihood. Its sole intent was and is to show animals larger than minivans exactly who’s the boss. Rodeo is about ranching the great American West, about hacking a living out of a land as unforgiving as a New York mother- in- law. Rodeo is America, and nobody in America ever eked out a living by driving herds of footballs or tennis balls to market for thirty bucks a month. The idea behind a rodeo is not to kill cows. It’s to subdue cows so you can do things to them- branding, castration and artificial insemination. Back in the old days, before more civilized ways of getting dumb animals to do things – – namely agents, drugs and psychotherapy – – someone had to risk his neck to get it done. Someone had to go out in the blowing sand and blistering sun to keep cows from falling off cliffs and getting eaten by wolves. Enter the cowboy. It was the cowboy who, by rope and raw nerve, taught the cow its place. The cowboy lifestyle spawned an enormous culture that has found its way into modern literature, movies, and even fashion. You don’t see normal people showing off how rugged they are by clomping around in skates and tutus, do you? Cowboys are the samurai of the Great American West. Unpolished and unlettered, your average cowboy today is still the salt of the earth. He’ll lend you his last two bucks, help you pull stumps on Sunday, and drive you 400 miles to see your girlfriend. And that’s after he knocked six of your teeth loose in an argument over who’s done more for mankind, Mother Teresa or Reba McEntire. You won’t find a better friend or a worse enemy. Some people claim cowboys are has-beens, that rodeo isn’t even a sport and that it ought to be banned because it has outlived its usefulness. I don’t think so. For sheer guts, no athlete in America can touch your rodeo cowboy. Compared to bull and bronc riders, NFL quarterbacks are wimps. Steve Young gets sacked twice in a row and the 49ers pull him out of the game. That isn’t tough. Let’s see how ol’ Steve buddy feels after getting sacked by a 2,000-pound, one- eyed, snot- blowing defensive tackle named Pawnee Death. A cowboy, having more grit than sense, can get his pelvis stomped into Tinker Toys and be right back at the arena the next day demanding another ride, and will somebody please hold this stinkin’ wheel chair for a dang minute? Shoot, there are ol’ boys riding the circuit today who are nothing more than rubbery sacks of bone chips held together by Levis and Tony Lamas. Your average pro- rodeo cowboy has got more odd spare parts stuck inside him than an Italian sports car, and more nerve than both teams in the Super Bowl. Another thing – – the NFL cheerleader has never lived who could hold a candle to your average rodeo queen. Rodeo queens don’t jump up and down and brainlessly wiggle their fannies on the sidelines of a rodeo. No, ma’am. They get out there and participate. Today, rodeo women ride broncs and bulls in addition to barrel racing and trick riding. What’s a set of pompoms and a big yellow hair- do compared to a woman who can rope a calf off its feet, turn a cutting horse on a dime, and fill out a pair of Wranglers in such a way that it makes your heart beg for mercy? Everybody in a rodeo earns his keep. Nowhere is this more true than with rodeo clowns. While some pro sports have gymnasts dressed up as gorillas and chickens in order to amuse the crowd, rodeo clowns are out there in the blood and gore with a solid purpose. And it ain’t just to make the crowd laugh. The primary job of a rodeo clown is to keep bulls and broncs from using fallen riders as trampolines. Rodeo clowns do this by intentionally putting themselves between a fallen rider and a ton of really mad Brahma. It looks like a gang of monkeys tormenting a Bengal tiger, but it works. By the time the bull has chased away the clowns, the rider is usually out of danger. Rodeo isn’t going to disappear just because a bunch of people think it’s hard on cows. After a century or more of dodging lightning, floods, rustlers and the federal government, the American cowboy isn’t going to roll over and play dead just because some New- Age weenies have decided cows need a support group. They already have one. It’s called a rodeo.