Denim Bradshaw, a student at Walkertown Middle School, died on January 28 from injuries he sustained while competing in a local bull riding event. He was only 14 years old. Out of respect for the dead, I held off writing this column until now because what I have to say is going to upset some people. For one thing, I’m angry that a senseless so-called sport caused the senseless death of a young boy. I’m angry at the promoter and the parents for allowing a child to ride a 2,000-pound animal. And I’m angry because we’ve gone far too long without a law that bans minors from competing in what some injury specialists call the most dangerous sport in the world. Truth is, I probably would have delayed writing this column even longer, except that this weekend the Hallmark Channel is launching a new drama series titled “Ride”, which romanticizes the world of bull riding. It’s time to speak out. 

First of all, bull riding, unlike other rodeo events like calf roping and barrel racing, has absolutely no relevance to the day-to-day activities of a working ranch. According to the American Cowboy website, bull riding originated in Mexico during the 1500s, and evolved from bullfighting as an entertainment event. In those days, competitors would ride the bull until it stopped bucking or until it collapsed. Today as then, there is nothing natural or honorable about bull riding. Riders may think it’s macho to stay on a bucking bull, but there’s nothing macho about the treatment of the bulls and other rodeo livestock. PETA reports that in most events, electric prods, spurs, and over-tightened bucking straps are used on the bull. Fans think it’s exciting to see a bull bolt out of the gate, but what they don’t know is how much pain the bull is in from the prods and straps. Nevertheless, today bull riding is the fastest-growing sport in America, attracting over 20 million fans just to the professional rodeos alone. And it’s a profitable hobby for wannabe cowboys. In fact, Professional Bull Riders Inc. (PBR) pays out over $9 million dollars to riders each year.

Now to the danger. According to Sports Medicine Reports, 100% of all bull riders have been injured at one time or another, and 26% of those injuries are severe enough to keep riders out of work for at least three months. Those lucky enough to heal from the initial injury are usually saddled with long-term effects such as degenerative joint disease, severe arthritis, and CTE. Others don’t survive their injuries, like 22-year-old Amadeu Campos Silva who was killed at a PBR event in Fresno last year. In all, 20 other professional bull riders have died since 1989, but that statistic does not include amateur events, like the one Denim Bradshaw competed in earlier this year which was sponsored by the King Fire Department, and run by Rafter K Rodeo company who is based in Union Grove. Young Denim, in his first competitive ride, was bucked off and fell to the ground where the bull trampled on his chest. Denim went into cardiac arrest and was dead on arrival at the hospital. 

The organizer of the King rodeo wrote in a statement, “Denim adventured into the world of bull riding and fell in love. The boots, the cowboy hats, and those big belt buckles. He loved it all.” 

Denim’s mom, who, according to Rafter K, had signed a notarized waiver making her aware that serious injury or death were possible, freely allowed her son to ride the bull, then, after the boy’s death commented, “He loved every second of it. I’ve never seen him so happy as I had seen him last night before (the ride)…You did it…I’m so proud of your braveness and your courage…Our sweet 14-year-old boy lost his life during what was the most exciting moment of his short life...None of us could believe that this first ride would cause his death.”

Meaning no disrespect to the rodeo promoter or to Denim’s mother, but are you f**king kidding me???? I loved toy cowboy pistols as a kid, but my parents didn’t then buy me a real one and let me go play with it. If they had, I could have gotten killed. Put another way, most bulls weigh more than some automobiles, and we don’t let 14-year-olds drive cars. Kids that age are just too young and immature to control such a large, dangerous object. 

Anyone who allowed Denim Bradshaw to get on that bull should be charged with child endangerment, and State legislators should pass a law that bars anyone under the age of 18 from competing in any rodeo, whether amateur or professional. I am saddened by the death of young Denim Bradshaw for many reasons. Most of all because it was preventable.  


Jim Longworth is the host of Triad Today, airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11 a.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15) and streaming on WFMY+.

(1) comment

Eric Mills

Rodeo is condemned by nearly EVERY animal welfare organization in North America due to its inherent cruelty. Rodeo has almost NOTHING to do with ranching; for most of the animals, the rodeo arena is merely a detour en route to the slaughterhouse. Real working ranch hands never routinely rode bulls, or rode bareback, or wrestled steers, or barrel raced, or practiced calf roping (terrified BABIES!) as a timed event. Nor did they put painful flank straps on the horses and bulls or work them over in the holding chutes with painful "hotshots," kicks and slaps. Some "sport"! Indeed, rodeo is not a true "sport" at all. Rather, it's a bogus, macho exercise in DOMINATION. It needs to end. And the media needs to stop promoting this blatant cruelty. I was present at the 1995 California Rodeo/Salinas when FIVE animals suffered and died, all in the name of "entertainment." The great majority of rodeos don't even require on-site veterinary care, and animal injuries and deaths are routine. Even Cesar Chavez was an outspoken critic.

The United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales) outlawed rodeos back in 1934, followed by Germany and the Netherlands. Can the U.S. be far behind? Rodeo has had its brutal day and now--like those Confederate statues--belongs in the Dustbin of History, R.I.P. BOYCOTT ALL RODEOS, THEIR ADVERTISERS & SPONSORS. FOLLOW THE MONEY.

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