EDITOR’S NOTE: As part of ESPN’s recognition of Juneteenth and Black History Always, a new, one-hour “SC Featured” special “Omitted: The Black Cowboy” will debut on Sunday, June 19, at 2 p.m. ET on ESPN2. 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. The new program is produced by Dale Mauldin. Below is an ESPN Front Row “Journalism Showcase” from February with background on the production of the piece.
For Black History Month, the SportsCenter “SC Featured” segment “Omitted – The Black Cowboy” explores the African American Western cowboy and rodeo culture and the media bias in the 20th century that excluded its influence and accomplishments.
Reported by Scoop Jackson and produced by ESPN feature producer Dale Mauldin, the segment will debut in the Sunday, Feb. 27 morning edition of SportsCenter.
Bill Pickett, a farmhand born into slavery, was known for his cattle-catching tricks and stunts. Pickett became the first African American cowboy inducted into the National Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame.
After Pickett’s death, a promoter formed the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, an all-Black rodeo created as a safe space for riders to develop their skills and compete at the highest levels. In 2021, it became the first all-Black rodeo to air on national television.
Mauldin spoke with Front Row:
How did you learn about this story?
I learned about this story organically. While living in Denver in early 2020, I saw a billboard for the rodeo that I didn’t know existed. I did not know much about rodeo at that time, but I never thought 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.
What inspired you to tell this story?
I was hit with a culture shock at the rodeo. 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.
Also, the reaction of happiness from my then 2-year-old daughter was unforgettable. She was seeing little girls that looked like her ride horses and show off their skills. I want other Black parents to feel the same joy and be able to tell them that it doesn’t matter what your interests are, there is a place for you, even if you don’t see it around all the time. I left with more questions than I had walking in.
What do you want viewers to take away from “Omitted – The Black Cowboy?”
Black cowboys have existed for hundreds of years. However, the cost of this sport is high. To break into the sport might 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 many of their stories have been omitted from history books. These are the reasons all-Black circuits are necessary for modern cowboys and cowgirls.
For more on SC Featured, visit ESPN PressRoom.