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Bull riding ‘not a hobby sport’

Docuseries ‘The Ride’ examines the peaks and valleys of professional bull riding

By Gary Gerard Hamilton, Associated Press
Published: June 3, 2023, 5:55am

NEW YORK — If at first you’re thrown from the bull, try, try again — at least that’s part of what the new docuseries “The Ride” highlights.

“Bull riding: you have to eat, sleep and breathe it. Whenever you go to bed at night, you got to be thinking about it,” said 25-year-old Ezekiel “Blue” Mitchell. “And when you wake up in the morning, you’ve got to be thinking about it.”

Cameras followed an engaging cast of competitors, along with coaches and executives, during the Professional Bull Riders’ 30th anniversary last year and the debut of its new Team Series. The eight-episode Prime Video docuseries, now airing, documents the peaks and valleys experienced by the fearless competitors of the PBR league and those closest to them.

Previously an individual-focused competition, the new format features eight squads competing in five-on-five matches across a 28-game regular season to secure a spot in in the championship tournament in Las Vegas. “The Ride” isn’t only about the sport — but also about getting back in the saddle after being thrown down in the arena of life.

Some competitors were a little uneasy about having their lives — and most vulnerable moments — documented by cameras, but Mitchell, the Austin Gamblers rising star, was unbothered.

“I’ve been in a particularly odd situation since I became a professional athlete with the PBR. Being an African American, I’ve been used to cameras and people wanting to talk to me, so it was nothing different,” said Mitchell, a native Texan whose father notes in the series that they didn’t always feel welcome at competitions and faced discrimination.

“Growing up in the rodeo scene around Houston and the surrounding areas … there were African American bull riders that were riding professionally whenever I was coming up as a younger guy. So, I had some people there to look to,” Mitchell said.

PBR was founded in 1992 by 20 bull riders seeking mainstream attention for the sport, each contributing $1,000 — money many didn’t have — to form the organization. Today, around 800 riders globally compete in more than 200 events annually, hoping to qualify for the finals and take home a $1 million bonus.

“It’s not a hobby sport. This is a sport that you’ve got to have a passion and literally love enough to die for,” said Tiffany Davis, who serves in an assistant GM-like capacity for the Carolina Cowboys, based in Winston-Salem, N.C. “I hate to say that, but it’s very dangerous.”

Davis knows the risks all too well. In 1998, in wedding-planning mode, her life was flipped-upside down after her 25-year-old superstar fiancé, Jerome Davis, suffered a catastrophic injury after falling from a bull during a Fort Worth, Texas, competition. The 1995 world champion suffered a broken neck and remains unable to walk.

Instead of leaving a sport that doled out such cruel fate, the couple doubled down. Jerome Davis serves as the Cowboys’ coach, and the family is as intertwined with the sport as ever.

“We love to do this, and it’s a passion,” Tiffany Davis said. “And the bull riders, for example, it’s something that’s instilled in them by God. … Just like some people have a passion to jump out of airplanes and stuff, this is their passion.”