ESPN Juneteenth Special Omitted: The Black Cowboy Explores Largely Unreported History

By Andy Hall
The program, airing as part of ESPN’s recognition of Juneteenth, and the company’s “Black History Always” initiative, will shine a light on the influence and accomplishments that were often uncovered by the media of the 20th century.

One of the focuses of the story is Bill Pickett, a farmhand born into slavery, known for his cattle-catching tricks and stunts, who became the first African American cowboy inducted into the National Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame and a legend in western cowboy history.

After Pickett’s death, a promoter formed the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, an all-Black Rodeo created to be a safe space for riders to develop their skills and compete at the highest level of rodeo. In 2021, it became the first all-Black Rodeo to air on national television.

Dale Mauldin, who produced the program, explained how he first learned about the all-Black rodeo.

“While living in Denver in early 2020, I saw a billboard for the rodeo that I didn’t know existed,” he said. “Not that I knew much about rodeo at that time, but never did I think there was an all-Black rodeo. My partner who grew up in the area said she had been going to this rodeo for as long as she could remember.

“I was hit with a culture shock at the rodeo,” he said. “Growing up in the Northeast I never saw African Americans in western wear outside of movies. I immediately sensed a rich culture that had been cultivated over years of the love for the sport.”

The program, an expanded version of a feature that ran on SportsCenter in February, includes additional video, interviews and context to tell the history of Black cowboys in America.

“Black cowboys have existed for hundreds of years,” he said. “The cost of this sport is high and to break into the sport, it may mean working with lower-level horses and equipment. Competing against families with generational wealth can be tough.

“African Americans that settled west overcame adversities and accomplished great things but over time many of their stories have been omitted from history books. This is the reasons that all-Black circuits are necessary for modern cowboys and cowgirls.”

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