ProRodeo leads charge on thinking pink
By Karl Stressman

I was watching Monday Night Football the other night, and I noticed the players wearing everything from pink gloves to helmets and cleats. In honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is October, the National Football League has launched its A Crucial Catch initiative in partnership with the American Cancer Society, and theyve gotten on board with the importance of annual screenings and early detection in the fight against this dreaded disease that affects us all in one way or another.

Seeing that takes me back to 2004, when ProRodeos Tough Enough to Wear Pink campaign was unveiled at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. It makes me so proud to know that the sport of professional rodeo has been instrumental in initiating the pink attachment to this cause. I’m not saying we created all pink awareness, but isn’t it amazing that a sport our size has had such a tremendous influence on the rest of professional sports?

To take it all the way back to the beginning, ProRodeo Hall of Famer Joe Beaver had pink shirts that he signed and sold at the 2003 NFR to raise money and awareness for breast cancer, and it was a hit. The Tough Enough to Wear Pink campaign was created in 2004 by breast cancer survivor Terry Wheatley, who’s the wife of NFR header Jim Wheatley and the mother of NFR header Wade Wheatley. I was Wranglers director of special events marketing at the time and got Wrangler immediately involved as TETWPs title sponsor when Terry came to me with this concept.

More than half of this sports rodeo committees have gotten involved at some level with the TETWP campaign. Working together, our rodeo community has raised more than $9.5 million for breast cancer charities since its inception. That is a pretty amazing number, and whats so great about it in my eyes is that we’re approaching $10 million raised, five dollars at a time.

Every entity in this business got behind this very worthy cause, and while we don’t have as deep of pockets as the NFL, NBA or Major League Baseball, this cowboy community of ours rolled up our sleeves and got it done a few bucks at a time at rodeos across this great country.

The irony of the toughest athletes in the world wearing pink is just so cool. How the cowboys got on board with this straight from the start was really great, but our people are no different than anyone else in this world in that we’ve all been touched by the heartbreak of breast cancer, which is so common. We lost Carol Boyles, the beloved executive assistant to the last three PRCA commissioners, last fall to the disease. She meant the world to all of us and to this sport.

Four generations of the Wheatley family have been affected by breast cancer. Terry lost her grandmother to it, and her mom had a double mastectomy before she was 40. Terry underwent surgery in her fight against breast cancer, and her daughter, Katie, had two surgical biopsies before she turned 20. Katie, whos Wades sister, and Lacey Wheatley, who’s Wade’s wife, now handle Tough Enough to Wear Pink’s day-to-day operations.

It all happened so fast when the Tough Enough to Wear Pink campaign was announced right before the 2004 NFR, but it was amazing to see everyone scramble to be a part of it. The guys who couldn’t get their hands on pink shirts on such short notice put pink bell and splint boots on their horses. From there, so many rodeo committees got involved, and it just took off like wildfire. Committees sell pink merchandise, donate a portion of their ticket sales, hold car washes, raffles, tractor pulls and anything else you can imagine.

Theyve gotten completely creative with the one ultimate goal of helping put an end to breast cancer in mind, and the results have been truly amazing.

The Cattlemens Days Rodeo in Gunnison, Colo., has been the No. 1 fund-raising PRCA rodeo to date. They brought more than $88,000 to the table on behalf of breast cancer in 2011. Gunnison is a small community of a little more than 5,000 people. How cool is that? Tough Enough to Wear Pink, whose charity of choice is the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, has been a unifying cause for the cowboy sport.

Pink was not a color most folks would have associated with cowboys, but they do now. What amazes me at this point is that this cause that’s become so near and dear to all of us continues to thrive and grow. A lot of causes have a peak, but there is no downtrend to this one in sight. In fact, it’s on the rise.

None of us are going to get out of this world without being touched in some way by cancer, whether it’s ourselves or our loved ones. Cowboy families are very close, and we all love our moms, grandmas, wives, sisters and daughters. Tough Enough to Wear Pink is making a difference. ProRodeo has a chance to make life-changing history here, and we’re doing it. That’s something we can all be very proud of.

Don’t forget to wear your Pink on Monday, December 5th and if your at home watching the rodeo, be sure to tune into GAC.