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Bull riders adjust to new normal as PBR heads to Las Vegas

Mason Taylor loves the camaraderie that bull riding provides. The interactions in the locker rooms before rides.

The congratulatory exchanges afterward.

But he’s learning to live without it.

“It’s definitely different, and it took some getting used to not being able to hang out with your buddies, because we have a brotherhood there,” he said. “But we got used to it because we’re very happy that we got to get back to work.”

The Professional Bull Riders was the first pro sports organization to contest an event amid the shutdown prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, and it’s returning to Las Vegas next month for a new event — the Monster Energy Team Challenge.

The PBR implemented safety parameters for riders and staffers and held three events without spectators in Guthrie, Oklahoma, in the past five weeks. The team challenge begins June 5 at South Point Arena and will feature competition every Friday and Saturday through June 28.

Riders have adjusted to the new normal and are eager to get to Las Vegas.

“We take the coronavirus very seriously,” PBR commissioner Sean Gleason said. “And we’re going to bring that same level of responsibility to Las Vegas when we come to buck bulls down there.”

Gleason had originally hoped the PBR could hold the events in the past month at South Point, but the arena was unavailable. He then shifted his focus to Guthrie and Lazy E Arena and worked with local officials to develop a safety and wellness plan. Human-to-human and human-to-surface contact points were minimized, and the events were successful in the face of challenging circumstances.

All of the riders and staffers were subjected to numerous coronavirus tests, Gleason said. All of them were negative.

“It was a little bit different at first, but the PBR did an outstanding job enforcing social distancing and everything, making sure everybody was safe,” bull rider Colten Jesse said. “By the end of the three events we had … it kind of seemed almost normal, almost second nature.”

Amid the success in Guthrie, Gleason reached out again to officials at South Point and approved a plan to bring bull riding back to Las Vegas using the protocols in Oklahoma. The organization announced the Monster Energy Team Challenge on May 17 and is introducing a new format to the sport.

Riders will be divided into 12 teams of four, and three teams will compete against three other teams in head-to-head matchups. Taylor said he views the new format as an opportunity to help other riders provide for one another.

“It could have been really easy for (the PBR) to say, ‘We’re going to sit at home and wait for this thing to blow over,’” Taylor said. “(They’ve) been working very hard to get us back to work.”

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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