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Wanting More Voice In Pro Group, Rodeo Cowboys Rebel

December 19, 1995

DENVER (AP) _ In a labor blowup out of character for independent-minded cowboys, pro rodeo contestants are organizing a players union because they don’t think the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association is giving them a fair shake.

The contestants began organizing after losing a power struggle on the PRCA board in late November. During the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas earlier this month, the cowboys formed a task force to explore launching a players association.

``There’s been some talk forever about having a players union, and I think maybe it’s time for that to evolve,″ said Rod Lyman, a steer wrestler from Lolo, Mont., who abruptly resigned as PRCA chairman after the cowboys lost the key vote in November.

``I think the cowboys are tired of not getting a a fair share and not having much say-so,″ he said.

Since 1936, when rodeo cowboys formed the Cowboy Turtle Association _ so named because they stuck their necks out _ they’ve been battling for better earnings and a measure of security in a business where injuries and the luck of the draw are the norm.

In 1975, the group became the PRCA, the oldest and largest rodeo sanctioning body in the world with 6,500 members. While most of the PRCA’s membership consists of contestants, it also includes stock contractors, the local committee members who organize the rodeos, and rodeo contractors _ bull fighters, clowns and rodeo announcers.

In the past, rodeo contestants usually were working cowboys with little education, but today they tend to be college-educated and they train like professional athletes. They also have different aspirations than their predecessors, who were happy to walk away from a rodeo with some cash in their jeans.

Tom Reeves, a saddle bronc rider from Stephenville, Texas, who is on the players union task force, said contestants want insurance, more money and maybe even a retirement plan.

``If you get your leg broke, you have no way to support your family after you’ve given it your whole life,″ he said, adding that a players association might not benefit him _ ``I’m further along in my career, but maybe my little boy or my brother’s little boy, it might benefit them.″

PRCA Commissioner Lewis Cryer says things have improved dramatically for contestants since the PRCA reorganized in 1987, the year he became commissioner.

Cryer said close to 800 PRCA-sanctioned rodeos are held every year, 140 more than in 1987, and there is $8 million in additional prize money offered. Moreover, while in the past cowboys put up 70 percent of the prize money at rodeos in entry fees and the rodeo committees furnished the rest, just 52 percent of the purse now comes from cowboys and entry fees have not increased appreciably.

``We have closed the gap administratively,″ he said. ``We’ve applied rules and regulations that make it possible to conduct it like a business and run it like a sport.″

But the contestants have long been dissatisfied with their lot in the PRCA. Six years ago, they tried and failed to take over the organization.

Things came to a head at the November meeting in Colorado Springs just before the National Finals Rodeo. The PRCA board _ made up of four contestants, two stock contractors, two committee persons, two independent businessmen and one rodeo contractor _ voted to allow five additional people to sit in on meetings as nonvoting observers.

The five non-voting members they wanted to add included two stock contractors, two rodeo committee persons and one rodeo contractor. Three additional contestant representatives already can attend the meetings without voting privileges.

The vote was 7-4, with the four contestants opposing the move.

After the votes were counted, Lyman quit as board chairman, and talks of a players union sprang to life.

``We felt very strongly that we had a pretty darned good board ... and for the betterment of rodeo, we didn’t think it should happen,″ Lyman said, adding that the contestants viewed it as a grab for more control by the rodeo contractors and businessmen, who often side with the contractors.

Bob Barnes of Peterson, Iowa, a stock contractor on the PRCA board, said he did not see anything wrong with adding the five non-voting members. ``Some people like to make large issues out of really nothing.″

He said stock contractors have their own problems. Their costs have doubled in recent years _ top rodeo livestock is scarce and expensive _ but contracts have increased little during that time.

Cryer, who attends board meetings but is not a board member, said nobody violated any rules.

``You have contestants on one side and on the other you have management _ stock contractors and committeemen. It’s just a matter of who has the votes, who has done a better job of politicking,″ said Cryer. ``Nobody’s right and nobody’s wrong. It’s unfortunate. It’s like a family fight.″

Rob Logue, of Greeley, Colo., a contestant on the PRCA board and a member of the contestants’ task force, said about every contestant approached at the National Finals Rodeo supported the players union proposal. The task force will present its findings at a meeting during the National Western Rodeo in Denver next month.

``We don’t want to take over the PRCA or anything, but we want to have our own voice, more of a voice in the way the PRCA is run,″ Logue said.

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