As the immigration debate raged throughout the country last July, star talent from the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) went to the front line of the issue.
At least four riders went on a ride along with the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and were involved in apprehending an immigrant who come across the border. One veteran rider later told USA Today that it was more of an adrenaline rush than riding a bull.
The ride was part of a partnership between the two groups. According to Josh Peter at USA Today, U.S. Customs and Border Protection is giving the Professional Bull Riders $2 million in sponsorship money this year to “bolster recruiting.”
PBR, border patrol partnership dates to 2008
The partnership between the two entities began in May 2008 — former President Barack Obama was elected that November — and ended in 2011. It was renewed after President Donald Trump made an executive order in January 2017 authorizing the hiring of additional agents on the border.
But the department was already behind on hiring people, chief Ronald Vitiello said that April, and began finding ways to recruit. That included the standard methods: a better social media presence, reaching out to schools, and working with the Department of Defense to attract employees.
It also meant a deal with PBR, for which it has paid more than $5 million over three years, per USA Today. PBR provides the department with recruiting tools such as its logo on rider uniforms, arenas and local TV ads.
“Under this president, this whole immigration thing has taken on a very strange kind of connotation, right?’’ Vitiello said, via USA Today. “The law is controversial. It always has been. But his rhetoric on it inflames people.
“So it’s good that we’re with the PBR because, you know, they stand for the flag and there’s a ceremonial piece to what they do in the arenas.’’
PBR CEO Sean Gleason said it’s not politically driven and people can deem it “politically correct” but the organization is just “going to go about our business.” He said in earlier media interviews the sport isn’t Republican nor Democrat and won’t take a side.
The partnership with border patrol is far from the only controversial aspect of Gleason and PBR. In July, shortly after the stars took the ride along, Front Office Sports called the league “the most politically incorrect sports league in America.”
PBR promotes videos of riders falling off the bull and has had young riders suffer longterm brain injuries or die. Gleason has threatened to pull his events from states, such as when Montana’s legislature denied a “Day of the Cowboy” law.
Top bull riders go on ride with border patrol
Bull riders went on the ride along with U.S. Customs and Border Protection in July 2019, including star talent in 2016 world champion Cooper Davis and 2018 rookie of the year Keyshawn Whitehorse.
“I had one right here,'' Seth ‘Shorty’ Gorham, 41, said on the (Instagram) video, referring to an undocumented immigrant. "Had him close. Had one. Found him under a tree. Tried to get him to stop. He ran off. I don’t have a radio, so I can’t talk to these guys (Border Patrol agents). But I did manage to take my shirt off and flag the helicopter. I let them know that there was one in the area."
Of the experience, Gorham later told USA TODAY Sports, "It was a lot of fun. I’ll tell you, I always thought that fighting bulls would get your adrenaline going, but nothing like that experience there."
Gorham shared more videos on his Instagram page detailing the job of a border patrol agent. Davis told USA Today it was “absolutely the coolest thing I’d ever been a part of” and it was like they were doing the country “justice.”
The interdiction they were involved in may have been against the law, according to a law professor at Cornell University interviewed for the story. And even if it wasn’t, one former patrol agent called it propaganda to get kids at a young age.
“The vast majority of agents do not ride horses,” Jenn Budd told USA Today. “They sit in a filthy truck for 12 hours staring at a fence or sit in processing."
Border Patrol issued a statement saying it “routinely hosts border tours” and that no one other than the agents engaged in law enforcement.
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