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November 18, 2017

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To Ty Murray, riding a bull for a living is not kids’ stuff


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Jewel and Ty Murray at the inaugural American Country Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Dec. 6, 2010.

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Renato Nunes of Brazil escapes serious injury after being thrown from a bull during the Built Ford Tough Series Professional Bull Riders (PBR) World Finals at the Thomas & Mack Center Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012. Launch slideshow »
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Jewel and Ty Murray at the inaugural American Country Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Dec. 6, 2010.

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Ty Murray All-Around Champion National Finals Rodeo NFR awards at Caesars Palace Dec. 8, 1989.

A member of Ty Murray’s family has shown something of an interest in rodeo, which is not a surprise considering Murray is one of the greatest rodeo cowboys ever.

Murray says of this family member, “He likes the ranch and the cows. He’s still pretty young, so I don’t really know if this is his passion.”

Murray is speaking of his son, Kase. He turned age 2 in July.

“It’s not my hope, right now, to see Kase be involved in this sport,” says Murray, a seven-time Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association all-around world champion and co-founder of the Professional Bull Riders series. “I’m not interested in pushing my son to re-enact my life. I’m not excited to see him follow in my footsteps.”

Why not?

“It’s dangerous.”

Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the PBR World Finals are set for today through Sunday at the Thomas & Mack Center (single-day tickets and five-day passes are still available at the PBR website). Las Vegas has always served as the series finale, and the best bull riders in the world will be competing at the Thomas & Mack. The PBR has grown into an international event; the series leader and defending champion entering the PBR finals is Brazilian star Silvano Alves, and four of the Top Five PBR riders competing at the T&M are from that country.

Murray will be observing from a safe perch as a color analyst for CBS Sports Network (Cox Communications Channel 333, 1333 in HD). Widely regarded as the greatest professional rodeo cowboy who ever lived (that’s how the PBR website and millions of rodeo fans refer to him), Murray considers himself remarkably fortunate to have walked away from the sport a decade ago without any debilitating injuries or maladies.

“I honestly don’t have anything lingering from my career. I am really healthy and do whatever I want,” says Murray, who, along with his wife, recording artist Jewell, was selected to compete on “Dancing With the Stars” four years ago (in an odd spin, it was Jewel who suffered an injury during rehearsals and could not compete, though Murray did take part and reached the 10th-week semifinals). “My worst injury was when I tore a posterior cruciate ligament in my right knee. I was out nine months, which is a full season in rodeo terms.”

Murray is a dogged proponent of the sport, describing rodeo events in general and bull riding in particular in stark, honest terms.

“This sport is as pure as it gets. It goes all the way back to the Roman gladiator, where it’s man against beast, and it is severely dangerous,” he says. “I don’t want to take away from other sports, and I have a lot of respect for athletes in many of these extreme sports. But when you call bicycles and skateboards extreme, then you climb on a bull … they don’t seem so extreme anymore.”

Murray goes on to say that the terms “contestant” and “athlete” are interchangeable in the world of rodeo, especially in such specialized events as the PBR.

“My point is the world doesn’t consider us a sport,” he says. “That is shameful to me. I think of what defines an athlete, and we have that in spades.”

Murray’s relationship with the culture of competitive rodeo has been ingrained since he was a kid. When he was 13, he spent a summer with rodeo legend Larry Mahan.

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Famously, Mahan didn’t teach Murray any rodeo techniques. Instead, he told Murray to hire an agent and also explained the importance of developing a positive relationship with the media. When Murray was ready to retire in 2002, he had already banked a decade as a successful sports businessman in his role as an executive with the PBR.

“I just feel like what we did was take this sport and run it like a business, a sports property,” he says. “We made bull riding more fun, more accessible and more profitable for everyone.”

Murray remembers his days on the PRCA circuit, when the quality of competition varied from rodeo to rodeo until the top competitors convened in Las Vegas for the NFR.

“If you see a rodeo across the country, you don’t know what you’re going to see,” he says. “With the PBR, you are seeing the best every time.”

At age 44, Murray says he is comfortable as one of the sport’s ambassadors.

“I am an analyst at about a third of the events, and I stay connected that way,” he says. “My involvement in the PBR has been the same as it’s been for the past 20 years. Otherwise, I’m married, and we have a son. That’s my world right now.”

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