It was not a vintage year for the Calgary Stampede. As many as six horses dying, riders injured, critical ads from the Vancouver Humane Society accepted by a local paper for the first time. It's fair to say that the annual rodeo and chuck-wagon competitions have an even larger target painted on them by animal-rights advocates.
It's also accurate that a large segment of the population doesn't feel the events - spawned by ranching life in the West - represent cruelty to animals bred for those purposes. The Stampede remains an iconic institution in the West and a bucket-list destination elsewhere.
Rodeo and chuck-wagon competitions are extremely dangerous (find many 30-year-old bull riders?), but the human participants accept the inherent risks. The issue is the rights of the animals bred to this purpose who cannot give consent. It is the very definition of a contentious debate.
So why is CBC, the national broadcaster that just re-upped for another five years with the Stampede, choosing sides in the fight? Does the national coverage of the nine-day spectacle connote approval?
Peter Fricker of Straight.com expressed the issue for animal rights types. "The truth is that the Stampede has always been falsely promoted as western heritage - first by vaudevillian showmen, then by marketing executives, and now by the CBC," he wrote in 2009. "The Calgary Stampede as western heritage is not just a myth. It's a lie."
CBC begs to differ. "The Stampede is truly a Canadian institution," CBC Sports executive director Scott Moore told Usual Suspects in an e-mail.
"And, therefore, we feel it's an appropriate fit for the CBC. However, we acknowledge that not everyone supports the activities at the Stampede. We support the Stampede in its efforts to ensure humane treatment of its livestock. We are also aware of other points of view and have included those voices on our event coverage as well as on our various other CBC platforms."
Indeed, CBC covered the efforts by animal rights groups to stigmatize the Stampede over its practices. And it gave the Stampede's supporters a platform to describe their philosophy.
But with no way to make rodeo or chuck wagons harm-free, the Corp. seems willing to accept the criticism that comes with the fatalities they produce.
"The excitement factor is gone," lamented ESPN/ABC's Paul Azinger on Sunday as Tiger Woods finished a stirring 23rd at The Open Championship at St. Andrews. If the excitement has truly evaporated, then the TV network sages are, in part, responsible for the stultifying effect.
Hands up everyone who wants Tiger Woods to cool down on the course? Who wants him to stop cussin' and complainin' and carryin' on after shots good and bad? Thought so. Yet, it's become gospel that Tiger needs to become best friend to the world on the golf course if he's to move beyond his, ahem, problems. Tom Watson's talk of Woods disrespecting the game because he Sikorskys a club or spits. He needs to ease up on the course.
Well, if the alternative for TV golf is Little Louis Oosthuizen politely grinding pars on the final day while staring at the red dot on his glove, then Usual Suspects says, "Give us the old Tiger or give us death." The unknown South African bled the final day of the Open Championship of its drama as deftly as a plumber bleeding a pipe of its pressure. The best Oosty colour ESPN's Sean McDonough could come up with was how he conquered adversity by getting new garage doors when his new SUV wouldn't fit. Harrowing stuff.
The ESPN/ABC crew tried to wishfully describe the four- or five-shot possibilities of the final three holes, a shimmering oasis of dramatic possibilities in the distance. But Oosthuizen ground the drama to a fine powder. As Little Louis was putting out, Woods was probably getting aboard a private jet for the long flight home. It says here that there were as many people were interested in seeing the latter as the former on TV.
Outside Oosthuizen's brilliance (he sealed the deal with his gargantuan Saturday birdie on 16) the two most memorable TV moments of the four days? Probably a tossup between Geoff Ogilvy's rather loud expletive deleted following an errant shot on Thursday or the ESPN cameras discovering a patron relieving himself in the bushes during Friday's lengthy wind delay. What do they say about a picture worth a thousand words?