By: Kristian Limas
September 13, 2017
Being a television broadcaster can be tough. Looking into a camera and clearly making a point when you know that thousands, even millions, of people across the globe are watching your every move can be a little nerve-racking.
Now, imagine having to get an angry bull away from a cowboy while doing it.
For veteran bullfighter Shorty Gorham, he would rather focus on the bull in front of him instead of whoever may be watching on TV.
As the lead on-dirt commentator for CBS Sports during the Built Ford Tough Series season, Gorham fills a unique role in sports broadcasting that cannot be seen anywhere else. Gorham provides live commentary on the field of play and very often may have to cut away in a millisecond to save a cowboy’s life.
That kind of access and proximity to the action helps fans gain special insight into just how tough bull riders and the bullfighters that protect them really are. While he’s on the dirt, Gorham tries to give the viewer his perspective right at the moment before the gate opens.
“I want to call it like I see it on the dirt right now,” Gorham said. “It’s what I’m seeing, and I think that’s what gives us a little different angle.”
Gorham has been one of the PBR’s premier bullfighters since joining the team in 2006. He is entering his 19th year as a professional bullfighter and has worked the National Finals Rodeo twice and was selected to work the Built Ford Tough World Finals each of the past 11 years.
Gorham, along with his partners Frank Newsom, Jesse Byrne and Cody Webster, make up one of the hardest working teams in the PBR.
Gorham is not the first bullfighter to wear a mic during the action, Rob Smetsand Joe Baumgartner did it before him, but he is the one who has truly defined the special dual role he plays in the world of the PBR.
The mic pretty much just fell into his hands.
“Originally, Rob Smets did it a little bit, but it was a designated one-hit and they would just come through and ask him about a matchup,” Gorham said. “Then Joe Baumgartner did it. Then when Joe got hurt, I got the mic.”
Gorham has since refined the format to something that works to his strengths. Previously, bullfighter commentary was more of a one-off hit that quickly fell into the background. Gorham prefers listening in to the conversation between lead play-by-play commentator Craig Hummer and the lead color commentator, which rotates between PBR legends like Ty Murray, Justin McBride and J.W. Hart.
“They used to have three guys in the booth doing commentating and then they went to just two guys,” Gorham said. “After I did my part, I kept the earpiece in and listened to them. The next day I said, ‘Hey, that was really cool, you guys sounded good,’ and Ty Murray said, ‘So you mean at any point during the deal I can talk to you and you can hear it?’ and that’s kind of how it all started.”
Gorham likes being part of the conversation and letting his commentary organically grow out of it. He doesn’t do a lot of prep work, but that’s not for lack of caring. He believes his independent view of the moment is what provides the most value to the audience.
Like anything, though, it took some practice to refine. Providing commentary has become pretty natural for Gorham. What he needed to adjust to was the added inputs.
Gorham is a bullfighter, first and foremost, and rider safety is always his main priority. So while wearing an earpiece and talking between outs is second nature to him now, it took some time to adjust to a second conversation going on in his ear while he works.
“It’s a little different, but the hardest thing for me was the equilibrium because you got one competition going on in one ear and a different sound going in the other ear,” Gorham said. “That was hard for me, but they’re talking about bull riding. If they were talking about NASCAR and I’m out here bullfighting then it would be very distracting.”
The adjustment didn’t take long for Gorham, who has learned to properly manage his safety responsibilities with his signature commentary.
“It took a little while, maybe four or five events, before I felt comfortable and I could manage it the way I needed to manage it,” Gorham said.
It has been smooth sailing ever since, and his commentary has been a boon to the broadcast team.
“Having him on the dirt isn’t just an asset, I think it really separates us as a sport,” Hummer said. “There’s literally no other sport that has a contributor on that level. He can see things that we absolutely can’t, so you combine that with his knowledge of the sport and it’s an integral part of our broadcast.”
Gorham began fighting bulls when he was 14 years old.
Being a bullfighter is equal parts thrill-seeking and selflessness. Gorham never loses sight of the fact that his primary job is ensuring the safety of a cowboy as best as he can. That often means jumping right into the danger and risking taking a hit to make sure a rider makes his way to safety.
“You’re only scared when you’re not prepared for your job,” Gorham said. “I don’t want the bull to win, so I don’t even think of getting hooked. That whole time I’m watching that ride, watching the rider’s core, trying to figure out when and where he’s going to hit and when he goes it’s got to be just instincts.
“And sometimes, after, you think ‘Oh, that was scary.’
Given the danger involved, Gorham believes that overthinking a situation is just about the worst thing a bullfighter can do. You have to go by feel and rely on your teammates because it’s completely possible to analyze so much that it will leave you paralyzed.
“It’s fear, it’s life and death, it’s the first thing you have to manage if you want to be relatively decent at this job,” Gorham said. “For us, we basically have to go into a wreck, take care of the wreck, and then find a way to get the hell out of there. If you’re thinking of an exit strategy before you go in, you’re never going to go in.”
Gorham relies on his instincts to guide him. His years of bullfighting experience means things like positioning and situational awareness are simply second nature to him. He doesn’t have to compartmentalize his dual roles either, there’s no difference between Shorty: the bullfighter, and Shorty: the commentator.
He has evolved along with his job and has truly embraced the ability to give fans of the PBR a tiny glimpse into the bravery required to help a cowboy in need.
Much like his bullfighting, Gorham’s role as a commentator has almost become second nature.
It’s just another part of him that switches on once he gets on the dirt and the music plays.
“Once they start playing the national anthem you turn off your brain and you turn on the adrenaline,” Gorham said. “I talk loud and I talk fast out there on the dirt and that’s the adrenaline, everything is rolling.”
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