By: Andrew Giangola
Every sports fan knows Jackie Robinson.
But do they know Myrtis Dightman?
Unfortunately, the life, times and accomplishments of this pioneering Black rodeo cowboy are largely unknown.
Part of the reason is Western sports are still seeking mainstream attention. Fans searching for rodeo highlights on SportsCenter know this all too well.
Yet Dightman is also a mystery to most people because the history of African American cowboys has not been adequately told.
If TV and film westerns set in the late 1800s were truly accurate, about a quarter of the cowboys on screen would be black, according to historians charting the movement of young African American men following emancipation.
These cowboys, Black and white, and also including immigrants from Mexico and China, worked together in one of the nation’s richest and most robust melting pots, living by the western code that all men are created equal, and that all cowboys, no matter what they look like, stand for what is right.
And, cowboys being cowboys, and doing what cowboys do for sporting pride and the chance to earn walking-around money, they got involved in rodeo.
The history is rich, the cast of characters memorable. The stories deserve to be told.
Beginning in Black History Month, PBR is doing its part to use its vast platform to illuminate this important piece of American history.
In February and through the rest of the 2021 season, the organization will showcase the incredible achievements of pioneering athletes like Dightman along with others, including PBR Ring of Honor Member and 1982 World Champion Charlie Sampson; Lee Akin, a blazing talent whose career was derailed by a terrible brain injury; Cleo Hearn, the first Black cowboy to win a calf-roping event at a major rodeo; Bill Pickett, inventor of the technique of bulldogging, whose name became synonymous with successful rodeos; Leon Coffee, a great rodeo ambassador and role model to youth; and many others.
Fans will also see vignettes featuring cowboys such as riders Keith Hall, Ezekiel Mitchell and Ouncie Mitchell, stock contractor Dennis Davis, and bullfighter Dwayne Hargo.
The league’s social media channels, as well as PBR telecasts on CBS, will be running features showcasing these notable Black cowboys, including their most memorable rides.
Later in the month, PBR will be announcing a groundbreaking new alliance supporting black cowboys and cowgirls and launching a Cowboys United merchandise line supporting various community charities.
To lend historical perspective to PBR’s content series, Keith Ryan Cartwright, author of the forthcoming book Black Cowboys of Rodeo: Unsung Heroes from Harlem to Hollywood and the American West, will be contributing expertise, articles and photos from his personal archive.
“At a time when our children need role models more than ever, we’re proud to celebrate the heritage of Black cowboys and tell their stories of incredible strength and courage,” said PBR Commissioner and CEO Sean Gleason. “Kids deserve to see that cowboys come in all shapes, sizes and colors, and that Black cowboys were not only involved in rodeo but also played a fundamental role in settling the American west.”
As Bud Bramwell, President of the American Black Cowboy Association, who also will be featured in the PBR content series, once said, “Let our pride in our past help us to build a prouder future.”
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