“These days, with steroid scandals clouding many top sports, doubts waft like sawdust in the bull arena too,” writes the LA Times’ Dee Dee Correll, “and Big Bucks (above, left) finds himself facing a question about what makes him a winner.” It seems one of the Professional Bull Riders Tour’s most fearsome beasts is going to submit to drug testing. And all this time, I just figured B.B. had an intense workout regiment.
Big Bucks, a past world champion, is a celebrity in his universe. His owners say he’s steroid-free and they don’t mind that he’s been the first to undergo testing — they just don’t want him to be unfairly singled out.
Testing for steroids is becoming more common in horse racing, but it’s virtually unheard of in the rodeo world.
Neither the International Professional Rodeo Assn. nor the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Assn. tests animals, and their officials said they hadn’t heard of anyone else taking the PBR’s approach.
It’s a decision that will prompt some internal discussions, said Cindy Schonholtz, animal welfare coordinator for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Assn. in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Despite their pursuit of testing, PBR officials say they don’t expect to find many, if any, problems. Steroids might not have been uncommon about a decade ago, they think, but usage probably tapered off as owners realized the downside: sterility that rendered the bulls useless as breeders.
“I just don’t think there’s a lot of abuse out there,” said Texas veterinarian Gary Warner, who works closely with PBR and helped develop a bull steroid test.
Though steroids could make a bull more aggressive — possibly desirable in the arena — they probably don’t make him bigger, Warner said, primarily because once the steroid is injected, the bull can’t be forced to work out to build muscle.
Even if the bull did bulk up, that’s not an advantage in the ring, Warner said. “These guys have to express athleticism more like a dancer. They’re graded on how high they kick, how tight a circle they move in.”
But good performers sometimes face accusations, he said. “That’s where rumor mills get started, and management gets caught in the middle,” Warner said. “I know those cowboys, and they’re awful good folks. But who’s to know? My hat’s off to PBR. It will solve the problem of everyone pointing the finger.”
As far as Texas bull owner Jerry Nelson is concerned, steroid use is “still an issue.”
“You can tell by looking at some of those bulls and their sizes. It’s just like human beings. You can tell who’s on it and who ain’t,” he said.