Helmets changing bull riding
June 29, 2002
Bull riders are buffoons. Anybody who would voluntarily ride a beast that can weigh 1,800 pounds, and has a head the size of a Volkswagen Bug, and is as dangerous as Lorena Bobbitt with a knife has to be an idiot. Plain stupid. I wish I could be one.
Bull riders are a different bunch. They are the biggest draw in rodeo, the loco ones, quite simply the studs.
In 10 years, I could be one and so could you.
On Tuesday night, I thought Jeff Tripp was like the 11 other dummies who were going to ride a bull at the Reno Rodeo. Before Tripp jumped on top of Rapid Fire Dip, he had chugged of 57 Red Bulls, a sacramental drink. But something was different about this cowboy from Orange, Calif., a Southern California city where tanning salons outnumber rodeos five million-to-one.
After Tripp violently slid his hand up and down the rope that he would try and grip for eight seconds, he shook uncontrollably. Tripp was really just nodding fast, assuring the guy who would swing open the gate to the chute gate that himself and Rapid Fire Dip were ready.
Tripp moved like a bobblehead doll on crack not because he drank 57 Red Bulls, but because Tripp knew Rapid Fire Dip had been shocked, kicked, slapped, and spit on before this moment. Rapid Fire Dip was mad. Now, he might buck hard enough for Tripp to get a high score.
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Here we go. Wait. One last adjustment.
Tripp grabbed his helmet to make sure it was on tight. Whoa, partner. A helmet? A bull rider without a cowboy hat is like Chicago without the Sears Tower, a brothel without girls, a stapler without staples. What’s next, shoulder pads, knee pads and mattresses? A bull rider without a cowboy hat might as well be a mutton’ buster.
“At first, I was a little nervous about wearing a helmet,” said Tripp, who didn’t last more than four seconds on Rapid Fire Dip. “I’ve already had seven concussions. It took a little getting used to and you’re worried some of the guys might you call you a wuss. But I haven’t had a problem with that.”
Two weeks ago at a rodeo in Weatherford, Texas, a bull bucked Tripp into the air. His body spiraled head first into the ground like a nail. His helmet shattered.
“That could’ve been No. 8 or I could’ve died. I love bull riding but I’m not ready to die for it. I don’t want to end up like Muhammad Ali or something like that. It’s just a smart thing to do.”
Go to Stanford, Tripp. What’s happened to the real bull riders, the ones where a helmet wouldn’t do any good because there ain’t nothin’ there?
“A lot of us guys right now learned how to ride without helmets, so it would be hard for us to make a switch,” said Beau Lindley, who scored a 75 on Thursday, sans helmet. “I’m sure the guys who wear ’em have a pretty good reason. I think maybe in 10 years a lot more guys will be wearing them but probably because they learned how to ride bulls wearing them. I don’t think I ever will.”
The last time I talked to a bull he was doin’ just dandy eating grass on a pasture in Lander County and waiting to become a Happy Meal. When bulls are agitated purposely in hopes of higher scores, understand they want to hurt somebody and the person on their back is a good place to start. But when the potential to get hurt isn’t fully there, the sport has changed. It was never meant to be safe.
“I think in five, 10 years, most of the guys will be wearing them,” Tripp said. “Nobody used to wear protective vests (introduced in the early 1990s) and pretty much everybody wears them now. I think it’s only a matter of time.”
Bull riders, the type that us normal folk always wanted to be but never could, might be a dying breed.
Jeremy Evans is a Nevada Appeal sportswriter
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