By Bob Welch
The past two years have been a real whirlwind the sport of rodeo. The formation of the Elite Rodeo Athletes, subsequent bylaw passage by the PRCA and ensuing lawsuit, followed by the absence of some of rodeo’s biggest stars at the most prestigious rodeos, and then the migration of many of those stars back to the PRCA has been an interesting saga to follow. And it’s not done. Add in high-profile lawsuits swirling around 2015’s RFD TV’s American rodeo, and the salacious intrigue in the sport of rodeo is reaching new heights.
For me, 2016 was the most awkward professional rodeo season in the 16 or so years I have covered the sport. Usually, I get questions from fans wanting to know what certain ropers are really like. For the past two years, the questions I get mostly revolved around the above issues.
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know what to tell people. It’s a little like being caught between two friends in a middle of a divorce. Neither side wants to concede anything to the other—and both want you to agree with them. Like I said: awkward. The best we can do is cover each as objectively as possible and watch—just like everybody else—to see how it all unfolds.
Perhaps, though, I take the general public and industry insiders’ grasp of what we do as journalists for granted. As such, with the major associations’ finals quickly approaching now might be the right time to explain the traditional role of the media and how we at Spin to Win Rodeo attempt to fit into it. The role of the media is to inform. Simply put, to report the news.
We were founded as an instructional magazine. Our role was to inform amateur team ropers how to become better at their hobby. Along the way, team roping and rodeo became bigger and bigger business. Our role expanded to inform fans of what was happening in the industry as well. As a monthly magazine, we’ve been very measured with our coverage of ever-shifting issues in the sport. But once things are resolved, we try our best to unpack what happened for you, our readers.
Sometimes that means not telling a story. We have pulled more than our fair share of punches over the years. We have no interest in becoming a gossip magazine—but believe me, there are plenty of seedy stories in this sport to keep one in business.
However, we don’t shy away from covering shakeups in the industry. Despite friendships and contacts, we try to stay out of the fight but provide coverage of it. Inevitably, though, there are attempts to drag us into the ring, bait us into a fight, or influence our coverage.
To my knowledge, we’ve never intentionally silenced one side or the other in any given dispute. However, despite our efforts, not everyone wants to talk to us or tell their side of the story. Usually, when we’re accused of slanted coverage it’s coming from the side that chose not to give us interviews—or sometimes just not very good interviews. Our job is not to protect people from themselves.
Almost always, both sides in the fight are unhappy with our coverage. Which makes me think we’re getting it right. In most disagreements, there are three sides to every story: “his side, her side, and the truth.” If our coverage is making both sides mad, likely we’re closer to the truth than either would like to admit.
It could be the most unsavory part of our job to ferret these stories out and then deal with the consequences. But we feel as though we owe it to our readers to inform them and report the news. We take that responsibility seriously. We won’t stop doing it. Hopefully people can understand that.