News & Opinion | July 1, 2018 5:00 am

Meet Myrtis Dightman: The Jackie Robinson of Professional Rodeo

In April 1967, this African-American cowboy's success broke the sport's color barrier.

Myrtis Dightman
Myrtis Dightman (Pinterest)

When he was 31, Myrtis Dightman made history. It was April 1967, and the cowboy was lowering himself onto the back of a 1,700-pound bull at a rodeo in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, the farthest he had ever been from his Texas hometown of Crockett. To make a qualified ride, a cowboy has to hang out for eight seconds without his free hand touching himself or the bull. If he does this, judges score the ride out of 100 possible points: 50 for how hard the bull bucked and 50 for the rider’s ability to stay in control. This ride was important for Dightman, because if he held on, it could send him to the top of the standings.

He did it. After holding on for eight seconds, the judges awarded Dightman the go-round’s highest score. But what was more important was that Dightman had just become the first black cowboy to stake a claim for the world title. Sportswriters took to calling Dightman the Jackie Robinson of rodeo, since it was 20 years to the month after Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball.

“A lot of folks thought rodeo was a white man’s game,” Dightman said years later, according to Texas Monthly. “But those bulls don’t care if you’re white or black. You could be green, for all it matters. They just don’t want you on their backs.”