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April 16, 2013 8:11 am

Politically incorrect

Written by Don Amend

I noticed last week that my colleague, Dante, drew a lot of criticism with his take on rodeo, and some of it was not very nice.

Well, I’m not really surprised. Rodeo is, not surprisingly, a sacred cow — or bull, as the case may be — among a segment of Wyoming’s demographic, and questioning our cowboy heritage like that is certainly politically incorrect around here.

I do wonder, though, just how big that rodeo-loving segment actually is. The last time I went to a rodeo as a spectator, as opposed to as a working photographer, was sometime back in the ’80s. My son, who was a bit put out because his sister was off to church camp and he was too young to follow, wanted to go, so one July day, after spending a couple of hours in a hopeless attempt to improve my pathetic golf game, we took off for Cody and the famous night rodeo and joined a rather small crowd to watch the action.

Well, to make a long story short, a 100-degree July day in Greybull morphed into a 35-degree evening in Cody, and both of us were dressed for weather a bit more balmy than that. Fortunately, a tourist family sitting behind us had an extra blanket, so we survived. In the conversation that followed, I discovered that all the rodeo fans sitting around us were tourists, most from such non-western places as Indiana. My son and I were an island of Westerners in a sea of Midwesterners and — dare I say it — Californians.

Now granted, I was working from a pretty small sample of the crowd, but based on that sample, the Wyoming crowd was mostly the rodeo’s participants rather than the spectators. That, of course, is desirable, since attracting Ohioans and, yes, Californians to Wyoming to spread their money among the locals is the raison d’etre, for the Cody rodeo in the first place.

That was the last rodeo I attended without a press pass, and as far as I know, it’s the last one my son took in as well. He never asked me to take him again, and I never asked why.

As you can see, then, I’m not a big rodeo fan, at least from a spectator point of view. It’s not that I hate rodeo or anything. I just prefer watching and participating in other sports, searching for targets for my camera or taking in a concert or a theater performance.

I do have mixed feelings on the animal cruelty issue. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t apply to the bulls. I think the bulls have more fun than their riders, by and large, especially since they seem to win, since even the riders who last the eight seconds seem to end up crashing to the ground and running for their lives. I swear I’ve seen a smirk on more than one bull’s face as they trotted to the gate with heads held high after leaving cowboys lying face first in the dirt. If they could, I expect bulls would celebrate by jumping into their owners’ arms like wrestlers do to their coaches after they win the state championship, and if they had fingers, they might even signal No. 1 to their relatives in the holding pen.

However, I always feel a bit of anguish for the calves in the men’s roping event. It can’t feel very good to have your body jerked around like that, although at least in a rodeo, that experience isn’t followed by somebody planting a red-hot iron on your hip, and, if you’re a boy calf, having that other thing done to you, guaranteeing that you’ll be good for nothing but roast beef a few months down the road.

On the other hand, I really like a picture I caught of a calf just as the loop settled on his neck at the Cowley rodeo a few years ago, and I do eat roast beef, so I guess I’m an indirect beneficiary of calf roping.

So, while I’m not a rodeo fan, and some elements of it make me feel a bit squeamish, there’s some ambivalence in my position. Moreover, I am aware that all those tourists who attend the Cody rodeo contribute sales taxes that help keep my state tax burden low, so I do benefit indirectly from rodeos in Wyoming.

Like it or not, that ambivalence is reflected in the people of Wyoming. I know rodeo fans and rodeo haters among my Wyoming acquaintances, and I have relatives on both sides of the divide. There are also some who don’t think much about rodeo at all except as an economic opportunity to be grasped. If those differing viewpoints are reflected in the population, they are also reflected in the staffs of the state’s newspapers, even the Tribune. Consequently, those opinions will show up in a newspaper’s opinion page occasionally.

And why shouldn’t they? People have different opinions, and whether I like another guy’s opinion or not, he should be able to express it without being hounded out of the state. Conversely, when I write this column, I have no obligation to support his opinion.

That interchange of opposing opinions is an important part, not only of freedom in America, but of our progress as a society as well. Without it, we might as well be living in Cuba.

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