The true colors of rodeo

If you’ve been hanging around the Thomas & Mack Center much this week during the nine go-rounds of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, you might have noticed a nice little patriotic touch to the attire of some contestants and folks tied to this event.

That would be the red, white and blue feathers poking from the headband of cowboy hats. There’s an interesting story behind how those feathers came to be, in just the past six months. So allow me, your humble NFR Experience correspondent, to tell it to you.

It started when PRCA Commissioner Karl Stressman was in Rosenberg, Texas, for an event benefiting the widows of Navy SEALs who died behind the line of fire in Afghanistan. The SEALs’ tragic story was the basis for the movie “Lone Survivor.”

“So during that event,” Stressman recalled, “there was a silent auction for these hand-painted feathers, and they were painted to look like the American flag. I told my wife to make sure those go home with us, no matter what they cost. So we did take them back with us.”

Stressman felt an emotional connection to the feathers, but wasn’t quite sure how to express it.

“I just thought there was something about them. The country in July, the election was going on, it was kind of chaotic,” he said. “Pro rodeo is the original American sport, and we don’t really make political stands. But I thought it was time for rodeo to stand up.”

And the feathers would be the vehicle for the rodeo voice.

“I thought, ‘I can do this,’” he said. “I did go and some feathers and painted a dozen, and gave them to my family at our Fourth of July party. Everybody put them on their hats and started wearing them.”

That got more people asking about and expressing interest in the feathers. So Stressman painted up another 15 to give the qualifiers for the National Finals Steer Roping in Mulvane, Kan. All 15 of them put the feathers in their hatband, and made another statement before the first round of the NFSR.

“They asked the production manager if they could walk out into the arena, rather than ride,” Stressman said. “Because they wanted to be standing during the national anthem, not sitting on their horses.”

The patriotic feathers continued to draw interest, so Stressman got together with Resistol to discuss a way to bring the feathers to the PRCA’s 624 rodeo committees. At the PRCA’s convention in Las Vegas, just before the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo kicked off, Stressman proposed to those committees making the feathers available to all of them.

“And they were over the moon about it,” Stressman said.

The commissioner hopes to bring on more of the PRCA’s corporate partners in an effort to mass-produce the feathers, which in their limited availability have certainly caught people’s eyes this week at the Wrangler NFR.

The best part about Stressman’s proposal is that the patriotic feathers will be part of a worthy charitable effort, much like the original feathers back in Rosenberg, Texas.

“Part of the proceeds would go to local military charities, and the other part, the rodeo committees can keep and put back in the rodeo community,” Stressman said. “It gives us an opportunity to talk about the true colors of rodeo. And I want the world to understand who we are and what we stand for. We are a family-driven sport that is steeped in tradition and proud to be Americans.”

That’s a feather all of us should be proud to put in our hats.

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