By Vince Grzegorek
Browsing through one of the free weeklies in Cleveland the other day, I saw this little tidbit from News of the Weird by Chuck Shepherd: “About one-fifth of professional rodeo bull riders have given up their cowboy hats and now wear modified hockey helmets with face masks because of the prevalence of serious injuries. Said one diehard, though, ‘I don’t wear a cowboy hat because I’m a bull rider. I wear a cowboy hat because I’m a cowboy.'”
Not having watched enough (read: any) bull-riding competitions lately, I wasn’t aware of the trend, but I wasn’t surprised. If I was going to get on a bull, I would wear a helmet, a vest, shoulder pads, a mouthguard, and, just to be safe, probably full-body protective suit. If less is better with mechanical bulls, the exact opposite is true with real ones. Bad things can and do happen (even to the rodeo clowns). After all, the question isn’t whether you’re going to be thrown from the bull — it’s just how long it’s going to take.
So now, as Shepherd reported, some riders are starting to wear hockey- or lacrosse-style helmets. According to Professional Bull Riders, 12 of the top 45 PRB riders wear helmets: J.B. Mauney, Mike Lee, Austin Meier, Sean Willingham, Wiley Peterson, Travis Briscoe, Shane Proctor, Cord McCoy, Mark Lopes, Corey Navarre, Cody Whitney, and Dusty LaBeth.
But let’s face it: The helmets look dorky. So is there a way for the fashion-conscious rider to employ some safety precautions? Absolutely. In an ingenious combination of style and function, two riders in the PBR actually wear both a Stetson and headgear equipped with a faceguard: Kasey Hayes and Ednei Caminhas. The effect is pretty cool-looking, and when the hat comes off you sort of get a Hannibal Lecter effect.
Reasons for riders sticking with the hat instead of the helmet vary. Some say the helmets are uncomfortable and that they restrict their vision during the competition (apparently this isn’t that uncomfortable for them). Others stick with the hat out of tradition. Those who opt for the helmet have a couple of options, including the Bullisitic and Bull Tough gear.
For quasi-understandable reasons, cowboy culture is slow to embrace change. The protective vest, which is almost universally worn today and credited with the prevention of countless injuries, was first introduced about 14 years ago by Cody Lambert and was initially met with the same resistance that helmets are currently getting. Now, it is generally accepted as part of the uniform. The number of riders using a helmet has increased, but it’s got a long way to go. (Almost all rodeos, however, require that children under 18 wear helmets, which I think we can all agree is a good idea.)
My only hope is that a new trend will develop toward the personalization of the helmets, much like goalie masks, for those who choose to display the American flag, or Lil Jon (only because I doubt that both Brooks and Dunn would comfortably fit).
“She Sang, She Danced, I Think She Twirled a Rope” Bonus Material: Actually, there is a lot of personalization already when it comes to bull-riding uniforms. Chaps have intricate designs, and even come in purple.
Belt buckles aren’t the most comfortable things to wear while trying to ride a bull, so riders thread a piece of nylon through their belt loops instead.
We can add bull-riding to the list of professional sports to feature advertising logos or patches on the uniforms.
Finally, in some celebrity rodeo news (what other kind is there?), Kiefer Sutherland was a two-time national team roping champ back in the late 1990s. No word on if he wore a helmet or a hat, but I’m sure no hacksaws were allowed for humane reasons.
(Bonus points to the first person to post the origin of the reference to the quote for the last subtitle. Hint: It has to do with the lead photo.)