“The true meaning of America, you ask? It's in a Texas rodeo, in a policeman's badge, in the sound of laughing children, in a political rally, in a newspaper ... In all these things, and many more, you'll find America. In all these things, you'll find freedom. And freedom is what America means to the world. And to me.” – Audie Murphy
While it’s unlikely anyone will ever confuse me with being a rough and rugged cowboy, what I witnessed coming out of the National Finals Rodeo held in Arlington last week and the week before kind of made me wish I were. Those 10 days revealed a level of pride and honor that, for the most part, has escaped America … but not the rodeo world. Frankly, when it comes to pure patriotism, there is nothing like the NFR. On display every day and night of the event was a remarkable expression of what all of America once was, and should still be, at heart. Passionate, vivid, authentic love for country filled Globe Life Field not just during opening and closing ceremonies but throughout all 10 days. The sights and sounds, even for a guy who loves his country deeply, were profoundly inspirational.
Why is the rodeo world, the NFR in this case, exceptional in its love of America while other sports like the NFL and NBA continuously run the country down? The NFR, after all, is filled with men and women of various ethnicities and from many walks of life, not to mention citizens of other countries. Despite origin of birth, and personal view of life for that matter, it seemed as though every rodeo participant in the NFR was not just proud to be a part of the pageantry, but clearly unafraid to show it, as well. Barrel racers stood out as the most colorful, yet it was obvious how much bull and bronc riders, steer wrestlers, ropers, rodeo clowns, announcers, organizers, and attendees genuinely love this country. The contrast between overpaid professional basketball players, by example, running around as though they care much about anything or anyone other than themselves and one of the least wealthy but most honorable sports on the planet is stark, to say the least.
It used to be that similar expressions of patriotism flowed through other sports like NASCAR and the Olympics, but even those have been infiltrated by the inane ramblings of athletes, sponsors and television networks convinced they are social issue experts. Not so in rodeo. Instead, what you’ll find there are extraordinary men and women who not only love their country but who find inexplicable joy in riding a bull for eight seconds or guiding a horse in full gallop around three barrels in 16.5 seconds so as to be crowned world champion. You’ll find men of all sizes attempting to wrestle a steer in 3.5 or so seconds, roping and tying a calf as fast as they can, and being thrashed around like a ragdoll on the back of a crazed horse desperate to throw a guy as far as possible as quick as possible. On some levels, cowboys are a bit crazy themselves. The good kind of crazy, that is. It both baffles and amazes me that anyone would choose to get on a raging, slobber-slinging, maniac bull and call it thrilling … but they do. As for cowgirls, they are much like queens on a throne only their throne is one of God’s most beautiful creations that go fast – real fast.
Although held in December every year, the NFR moved its premiere event from Las Vegas to Texas in 2020. Not surprisingly, Texas said bring it on while Nevada hedged its bet that the rodeo would be compromised by COVID-19. With restrictions in place that limited what would have been a full-capacity event, nothing compromised what took place in Arlington from Dec. 3-12. In addition to the location, it’s also the date that made this year’s NFR extraordinary. With America just having gone through the most absurd election the country has ever experienced and the equally absurd claims that Joe Biden of all people received more votes than any Democratic candidate in history, the pride and patriotism of the NFR became the perfect antidote for a guy like me. For in that rodeo world, I found the opposite of what the world of politics and elections and partisanship produce. Rather than cheating, fraud and complete disregard for integrity, I witnessed the fruits of hard work, honor, and generational patriotism. I discovered men and women alike whose loyalty to a place that has given them the opportunity to live out their passions is far greater than their pursuits of wealth, self-aggrandizement and unwanted maddening social commentary. And I found the America many seek to destroy, alter and bankrupt today. Sure, America has her share of challenges and a plethora of folks who strive to tear her down, no doubt.
Rest assured, the rodeo world ain’t one of them.
Scott Brooks is publisher of the Waxahachie Sun. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.