Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a cowboy, through and through. I may not have moved to Texas until I was seven, but I come from strong country stock. I love to say ridiculous things like hootenanny and y’all’ll. My senior prom was in a barn. I own a cowboy hat signed by Mike Lee and Justin McBride, two world-famous bull riders.
The other night, I was casually watching Brokeback Mountain with some friends. Seeing the rodeo scenes mixed in with all that unprotected gay sex reminded me of my youth. For some people, the rodeo might be a mythical part of Western culture, much like Wawa to anyone who’s not from the Northeast. But for me, rodeos were part of my childhood. I spent so many nights on the couch watching bull riding that they blur together in my memory.
More distinct are nights spent at an actual rodeo arena, where I imagine the atmosphere is a bit like a football game but everyone smells like leather and leaves their horses tied up in the parking lot.
During middle school, I was enamored by the culture around bull riding. Looking back, I was probably intoxicated by the clash of raw masculine power between the bull and its rider. Projecting my own anxieties about my masculinity, I admired the men who stepped into the arena. To them, it wasn’t just a game. They represent domination over nature, over man’s animalistic instinct.
In many ways, bull riding is the perfect sport for Hopkins. We’re a research university. Our doctors, scientists and undergraduate students are constantly striving to perfect man’s dominion over nature through precise study. Yet we are founded on a liberal arts model. And bull riding is an individualistic, empathetic sport that prompts deep ethical questions about masculinity, exploiting violence as entertainment and individual versus collective struggle.
Aren’t all of us Blue Jays really bull riders in our own ways? The bull is classes, research, work and everything else that keeps us endlessly busy. That eight seconds that the bull rider must stay upright is a semester; it doesn’t seem particularly long, until you’re right in the middle and in danger of being gored to death at any moment.
I was discussing bull riding with a friend recently, and after some debate she conceded that bull riding “is a sport, if not in the traditional sense, I guess.” Since when has Hopkins gone by tradition? Universities traditionally have student unions. They traditionally have adequately-staffed counseling centers. Traditionally, they give students free printing. But Hopkins could give two fucks about tradition.
Hopkins is at the forefront of medical engineering. In many areas, the University produces cutting-edge research that defines the norms (one might say traditions) of the field. Football, baseball and yes, lacrosse, are sports norms. They are valuable, of course. But doesn’t our esteemed institution want to be bold, to take that step that no one else will take, to forever change the way we think about college sports?
We like lacrosse at Hopkins, and that’s cool. That’s our thing, and I get that. And lacrosse is fun, don’t get me wrong, but imagine walking up to the Rec Center for a fucking rodeo. Doesn’t that sound dope? Cheering for your friend as they flail around haphazardly atop a ton of very angry muscle and horns. Imagine if we became known as that rodeo school, the way right now we’re that BME school.
And it’s in the University’s best interest to embrace bull riding, which just a few years ago was named by Forbes as America’s fastest-growing sport. Justin McBride and Mike Lee are worth about $5 million and $4 million, respectively. Hopkins thinks it won’t see any return on that? The path to institutional financial success lies in the rodeo.
Opening up a rodeo arena could also help secure us a higher spot in the U.S. News & World Report rankings. A rodeo arena could help us win points in athletics, student engagement and school spirit. I’ll admit, this one is a bit of a reach, but you never know — do you think the Cambridge University Boat Club hurts Cambridge’s image? No, it shows that Cambridge students are well-rounded and culturally informed.
Now, when I remember those days when I was so enamored by the culture around bull riding, I realize that Hopkins caused me to lose touch with that. At the beginning of my freshman year, I threw myself into life at Hopkins so willingly that I didn’t stop to question why bull riding didn’t have more of an on-campus presence. It never occurred to me to look for the Rodeo Club at the Student Involvement air. I could blame the University for having lost touch with such an important part of my life.
Frankly, I’m shocked that the University has yet to fully embrace bull riding. As a current student and future alumnus, I fully expect that the next set of renovations at the Rec Center includes the addition of a rodeo arena. It’s for the good of all students.