Riding the Bulls: Ready for the Big Time? Bull riding is the new NASCAR. The sport has changed in recent years: more money, meaner bulls, more ESPN, more hype and a growing fan base. On TV, it now follows the World Wrestling Federation, an "extreme sport" that's very telegenic. But bull riding is still extraordinarily dangerous.
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Riding the Bulls: Ready for the Big Time?

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Riding the Bulls: Ready for the Big Time?

Riding the Bulls: Ready for the Big Time?

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From bikes to bulls now, and we're told by people who decide on such things that the sport of bull riding has become the new NASCAR.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

You'll find cowboys sporting corporate logos on their chaps. You can watch them right on television in five countries, and they'll compete for $10 million in prize money this year.

Professional Bull Riders Incorporated - a Colorado-based company that stages events - now has a membership of nearly 900 cowboys who compete in 300 events a year.

SIEGEL: The oldest event in the country is held each May in Del Rio, Texas -down on the Mexican border. The George Paul Memorial Bull Riding is now in its 30th year. It's named after a local legend who rode 79 bulls in a row without getting bucked off. George Paul died in a plane crash in 1970 at the age of 23.

Here then is an audio portrait of a sport that is all about a man clinging to the back of a beast for eight seconds.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JOHN LUDLUM (Marketing Director, George Paul Memorial Bull Riding): Folks, I'm here to tell you're not only going to see the world's greatest bull riding, you're going to have the most fun you've ever had in your life at a bull riding. If the George Paul Memorial is famous for anything - it is having fun.

My name is John Ludlum. I'm the marketing director for the George Paul Memorial Bull Riding. When you come to the George Paul Memorial Bull Riding, it's the mud, the blood, the guts and the beer. We're not in some air-conditioned stadium where you can put your tutu down in a real soft seat.

They bill it as the toughest event on dirt, and it's man versus beast. It's got good-looking young cowboys. It's got cowgirls that love them. It is the real thing.

Mr. J.B. MAUNEY (Professional Bull Rider): I'm J.B. Mauney. I'm from Mooresville, North Carolina. I'm 20 years old and I'm sitting number two in the world right now.

This year, I made close to probably 385,000.

Shoot I'm 20 years old, and everybody I knows that my age around my house, they got to go to work every day of the week, I got get on bulls, go on home, go to bull runs. Just have a good time hanging out with my buddies.

(Soundbite of bull riding)

Mr. CHAD BEAVERS (Professional Bullfighter Rodeo Clown): My name is Chad Beavers. I'm a professional bullfighter rodeo clown. Our job is to protect the cowboy. We're like the secret service for the president, but we're the secret service for the bull rider. If we have to get run over, take a hooking, get hurt ourselves - and I've been around bull riding all my life. I used to ride bulls, so I'm kind of like bull savvy.

And a lot of guys don't have the bull savvy, they don't know where to be, what to watch on a bull rider, how to watch a bull when he's bucking, what lead he's in. It takes a lot to learn where to be. You have to step between the rider and the bull.

(Soundbite of bull riding)

Mr. BEAVER: We step in that ring, it's like game on.

Unidentified Man #1: Here we go. All right.

(Soundbite of whistling)

Mr. BEAVER: We don't think about getting hurt because - it's going to happen. You just go and make sure that the good Lord's with you and he'll take care of you.

Unidentified Man: Hey, hey, hey.

Mr. BEAVER: I've been banged up from head to toe, I've near broke every bone in my body.

Unidentified Man #1: You all right?

(Soundbite of indistinct dialogue)

Unidentified Man #2: I'm all right.

Mr. BEAVER: You know, we get good pay. But the best thing about fighting bulls for a living, saving those cowboys' lives when that cowboy comes up and says thank you.

Unidentified Man #3: Here's your defending champion...

Mr. CASEY BAIZE (Professional Bull Rider): My name is Casey Baize. I'm from Big Lake, Texas. I've been riding bulls professionally since about 2000. I started riding calves when I was eight years old, so I guess that's where it started.

I've had major head injury in 2000. I cracked my skull; I broke both eye sockets and cheekbones and nose several times; collapsed a lung; broke ribs; tore my groin muscle in two a few years ago; and had some concussions; surgery on my left shoulder, I need it on my right shoulder. And then that's not any of the little injuries, I guess, we'd be here a long time.

You try to stay on eight seconds. You can't touch the bull in any way with my free hand. A lot of people, they don't know anything about bull riding. It's a lot more than just sticking your hand in a rope and trying to hang on. I mean, anybody can try to do that, but it's - you're going to get -you're a 150-pound man going against a 2,000-pound bull, try to ride jump for jump and try to give 110 percent every jump till that whistle blows or till I hit the ground and - I mean, it's a battle. It's long as - eight seconds is a long time.

Unidentified Woman: It's time now, Casey Baize. (Unintelligible)

Unidentified Man #4: Superstar Casey Baize (Unintelligible).

Unidentified Woman: He's laying his feet. Rattle that gate. You got somebody?

(Soundbite of indistinct dialogue)

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BAIZE: Oh I'm not real happy. I was really excited about having that bull, and he just kind of beat me around there and turned back away from my hand and...

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BAIZE: Like I said, I'm not really happy about it. It's part of bull riding, you know, I pray to God that I'm able to go and do it again, so Lord hand me the way. That's it for me tonight.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: The overall winner of the George Paul Memorial Bull Ride was 19-year-old T.J. Jenkins of Texaco, New Mexico. He was riding a bull named Sharp Dressed Man. The audio postcard was produced by NPR's John Burnett. To see pictures of the bull riding, go to our Web site, npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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