This is the first in a series of examinations of miscellaneous sports legends from the world of the somewhat less popular sports (like polo, yachting and bull riding) and whether they are true or false.
This installment is a re-format edition, so these legends have already been posted on this site, just not in this format.
SPORTS LEGEND: Bull riders get bulls to buck by pulling on straps attached to the bull’s testicles.
I’m not here to convince you that riding bulls is not an uncomfortable experience for the bulls.
It almost certainly is.
However, there is a definite misconception as to one particular piece of bull riding equipment, and that is the flank strap.
The flank strap is a rope that is tied around the bull’s flank (the lower torso of a bull, near its hind legs). The strap is there to encourage the bull to use its hind legs more in a bucking motion. One half of a bull rider’s score is determined by how much the bull bucked while the rider is on the bull, so therefore there is a major incentive to get the bull to buck as much as possible (the other half of the score involves how well the bull rider controls the bull, and that can also include the rider’s ability to MAKE the bull buck more).
Due to the fact that it makes the bulls buck, plus its close proximity to the genitals of the bull, many people believe that the flank strap is attached in some manner to the testicles of the bull (or designed in some way to irritate the bull’s testicles).
That is not true. Besides the fact that the flank strap is really not THAT close to the bull’s testicles, it just doesn’t make common sense to mess with a bull’s testicles. For one, these animals are valuable, and their semen is one of the most valuable aspects of them, so it is in the economic interest of their owners to keep their testicles safe. For another thing, if a bull’s testicles was seriously yanked on, it more likely would react with pain rather than aggression, and therefore not buck as high. For a final thing, just to recap the very first bit – they’re just clearly not placed near the testicles.
That does not mean that the flank strap cannot be seen as cruel to the animal. Many people DO feel that it is cruel to the animal.
Here, courtesy of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is a picture of a bull wearing a flank strap…
That’s clearly not on its testicles, but it sure doesn’t look like fun, now does it?
Do note that since that picture comes from PETA, there is a good chance that that is not a “typical” example of how flank straps hang on bulls – they’re most likely not as tight as that. That said, I picked that particular pictures because if even PETA concedes that the flank strap is not on a bull’s testicles, then I think that’s perhaps the best argument of them all.
SPORTS LEGEND: A female polo player pretended to be a man for twenty years so as to play professional polo.
Polo originated in Persia/Iran, some time between 600 BC and 1 AD, and soon became more or less the national sport of Iran. It was a much different game back then (as are most sports when you look back at the beginning), with groups sometimes as large as 100 per side competing! You can imagine how that might have looked!
The game eventually passed from Persia to India, and it was in Manipur (now a state in India) that the British picked the game up (British officers in India brought the game to England around 1860).
England spread the game across the globe in the late 19th Century/early 20th Century.
The first United States polo match took place at Dickel’s Riding Academy at 39th Street and Fifth Avenue. American polo was played at a much faster pace than British polo (Indian polo tended to be pretty fast-paced, as well – the British actually slowed the game down some).
It soon became a popular game with the upper crust of America.
It was also very much a male sport.
That did not stop Sue Sally Hale (nee Jones), who was born in 1938 in Southern California to Grover Jones (a popular Hollywood screenwriter – he wrote The Virginian and Abe Lincoln in Illinois) and Susan Avery (a former ballerina).
Her father died when she was a young girl, right around the same time she got her first pony. Her mother married Richard Talmadge, a movie actor and stuntman. Talmadge encouraged Sue Sally to play polo, and she soon began playing the sport at a high level when she was a young teen.
The problem was that in 1952, club matches (let alone professional matches) were closed to female players. So Sue Sally used mascara to apply a mustache to her face, wore baggy clothes, pulled her hair up under her helmet and gave the name “A. Jones” to compete.
She soon became one of the country’s top young polo players, and eventually, it became a bit of an open secret that “A. Jones” was really Sue Sally (at least among people who knew her at all), but constant pushes by Sue Sally and her friends in polo were rebuffed.
Finally, in 1972, after talk about a lawsuit, the United States Polo Association allowed her membership. Soon she began organizing women’s tournaments. She became known as one of the leading female players in the world, and in 1990, she (and her daughter, Sunny, who still competes professionally) were part of the winning team at the 1990 United States Women’s Open.
Hale coached polo at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo and at the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in Santa Ana, California. She also taught it to handicapped children.
Hale died in 2003 at the age of 65.
SPORTS LEGEND: Two-time America’s Cup winner Peter Blake was killed by pirates
In a sad coincidence, I originally was getting ready to post this one when the real life story of the captain of the Maersk Alabama, who offered himself up as a hostage to protect his crew from pirates off of the coast of Somalia, made the news (luckily, Captain Phillips was saved by the United States Navy).
The America’s Cup is a challenge that first began when the New York Yachting Club entered a yacht that defeated fourteen other yachts in a race sponsored by the Royal Yacht Squadron in 1851.
Now that they were the “defenders” they began sponsoring a challenge in 1871 that varied in time between races, but usually around 3-4 years (with large gaps for World War I and World War II).
The Americans defended the cup for a stunning 23 times over 109 years!! And this was not one of those things where only the Americans really cared about winning – other countries (particularly Britain) really wanted to win this thing, but the Americans keep winning, which is basically how it became known as America’s Cup.
In 1983, an Australian yacht called Australia II (funny that) broke the streak. America promptly re-took the Cup in 1988 and kept it until 1995.
In 1992, with little time before the race was to begin, New Zealand enlisted Yachtsman Peter Blake to sail for New Zealand. He led the New Zealand team to a surprising close loss to Italy, who ultimately challenged (and lost) the Americans. Blake was already notable for winning the 1989 Whitbread Round the World Race.
In 1994, Blake set the record for the fastest time around the world, with a time of 74 days 22 hours 17 minutes 22 seconds on the catamaran Enza.
In 1995, Blake was back representing New Zealand in the America’s Cup, and he helped shock the world by winning the 1995 Cup.
The victory was so important to the world that Blake was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1995!! (Blake was also inducted into the America’s Cup Hall of Fame in 1996)
Blake then shocked the world once more by becoming the first non-American team to DEFEND the America’s Cup by leading New Zealand to a victory in 2000.
Now one of the most famous yachtsman in the world, Blake retired from Cup racing and devoted himself to the environmental studies that he began in 1997 when he was named the Cousteau Society’s head of expeditions.
Tragically, in December of 2001, while on a trip to South America to monitor global warming and pollution for the United Nations, the 53-year-old Blake’s ship was besieged by pirates nearby Macapá, Brazil.
As one of the pirates (there were between six and eight of them) held one of his crew members at gunpoint, Blake sprang from his cabin with his rifle and shot the pirate. But then Blake’s rifle malfunctioned and he was gunned down by Ricardo Colares Tavares.
The pirates only ended up stealing a motor and some wristwatches from the crew.
The pirates were all arrested and sentenced to roughly 30 or so years in jail each.
Over 30,000 people attended a memorial service for Blake.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org