Family has been at the heart of everything four-time world champion and Pro Rodeo Hall of Famer Tuff Hedeman does, whether it be riding bulls or producing events.
Hedeman kicks off his independent 2018 Tuff Hedeman Bull Riding Tour at Cowtown Coliseum at 8 p.m. Saturday.
The Fort Worth, invitation-only event includes a roster of champion riders, including National Finals Rodeo stars Trey Benton III, Jeff Askey, Cody Rostockyj and U.S. Army veteran Juan Alonzo.
The event is the result of Hedeman’s lifelong, evolving vision to create the best possible bull riding experience for riders, sponsors and fans alike.
The Pro Rodeo Hall of Famer boasts an illustrious career spanning several decades, however Hedeman has little interest in reminiscing about the past.
Instead, his eyes remain fixed on the future of producing events, as well as spending time with his family.
“I know everything there is to know about the events, I know everything there is to know about competing, but I still try to improve and get better and evolve and do things differently all the time,” Hedeman said.
“The events I do now are better than the ones I did last year, five years ago and 10 years ago because I don’t want to be complacent. Everything, all the technology out there, it all evolves.
“You know, as much as I respect the past and the accomplishments of the past and tradition, I want to move forward and get better and make the experience better for everybody concerned.”
At the center of Hedeman’s vision lies a deep appreciation and commitment to the fans of bull riding.
President of the Professional Bull Riders Association from 1992-2004, as well as president of the Championship Bull Riding organization from 2005-11, Hedeman’s decision to go it alone this year fostered speculation as to why.
Hedeman did not mention the PBR or CBR explicitly when discussing differences in their ideas for the future of bull riding with those of his own, although he made clear his vision is one that casts aside “restrictions” that do not directly benefit the riders and fans.
“I’m in the entertainment business,” Hedeman said.
“You hear purists ask, ‘is it a sport, is it a show, is it this or that,’ well if you really want to be successful and you really want to grow, you have to get people from outside your world to have an interest in what you do, or you’re just going to stay pretty stale, pretty stagnant in terms of who’s going to come. They’ve evolved over the years in terms of, we always use the best technology available in terms of the quality of the sound and the video.
“Sometimes you can’t do that within the structure of some association or governing body. It’s not my goal to create another bull riding league or association.”
Hedeman stresses that with his tour, riders can focus on competing.
“I think riders know that when they come, there’s no pressure from me,” Hedeman said.
“What happens a lot of times is when you become part of this association, or this organization, they become restrictive. They don’t want you to go to another association, you’re not allowed to have sponsorships or patches on your clothing that competes with the sponsor of the event or the association, and all that’s just BS and nonsense to me.
“They know that I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to have them do anything I wouldn’t do myself. When we started PBR, we went from not really having any say in our sport or events when we were just a part of the rodeo to having all the say.
“So I think that’s one of the pluses. They know they’re going to have a good, competitive opportunity to win money and that the atmosphere and how they’re treated is second to none.”
Hedeman’s decision to go it alone with his new tour runs even deeper though.
For Hedeman, the riders should be able to operate without worrying about falling in line with such demands from the host organizations or associations.
“All these guys are independent contractors,” Hedeman said.
“If they were salaried guys then it’s a different conversation, but they’re not. Just because [the sponsors] are paying me, shouldn’t give me the right to tell the riders what to wear or do. But they do because they’re trying to protect their sponsors, they’re trying to protect their event, because they’re afraid. They don’t want you to go to another organization or association.
“But there’s plenty of room. If you’re good at what you do in terms of whether you’re bull riding producer, or a rodeo producer, or organization, if you’re good at what you do, you shouldn’t have to worry about that. It is just nonsense to me. But the majority of them do it.
“But I’m never going to be the majority. And you know the one thing I’m not afraid of is to do what I think’s right.”
While Hedeman is thankful for a long and successful career, his deepest love and admiration is for his family.
A father of three boys, including his two adult sons, Lane (named after Hedeman’s best friend and fellow professional bull rider Lane Frost) and Trevor, as well as 2-year old son Ryker, Hedeman is afforded more time to spend with his family by heading his own independent tour.
“Being able to do what I do for a living makes it to where I can schedule my life, my job around Ryker,” Hedeman said.
“Whenever I have him, I have him. I don’t have a babysitter, he doesn’t go to daycare. I’m not looking for somebody else to take care of him or raise him. When Trevor and Lane, when they were growing up, you know a lot of people think that I was so busy with my career that I wasn’t able to spend much time with them as [I’d] like, but that really was not the case.
“My family always has been, and always will be first.
“One of those things that you really wouldn’t plan when you’re 50 years old is to have a child. But things happen and he’s here, and I could not be more excited about anything in this world than him. Both of his brothers, they embrace Ryker like he’s their brother and they love him like brothers should. They’re always involved with what he does.”
Despite his own deep and personal connection to bull riding, Hedeman is not at all upset that his two adult sons chose not to take up their father’s career choice.
“It was never my desire for them to do what I did, just because as a parent you know how dangerous it really is and what can happen and what you’ve seen happen,” Hedeman said.
“I’m not big on my children doing what I did. For me, it was the greatest thing in the world and I wouldn’t trade it, and had they chose that, I would have supported them. But in the back of my mind, I’m glad that they didn’t.”
As a father first and foremost, Hedeman said he wants his children to be happy and healthy.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of my career,” Hedeman said.
“I had a great career, I was able to accomplish some things that I never really thought would be possible. But at the end of the day, my sons know who I am. I’m just dad.
“People put maybe too much emphasis on what people have accomplished. They try to make them out to be a little bit more than what they are, who they are. No disrespect, I’m very appreciative of all the support and what not that I’ve received over the years, but again, I am just dad and really don’t care to be much more than that.”
Hedeman stresses that despite outside opinions, his commitment to his family never took a backseat to other aspects of his life, even when he was still competing.
“It’s a little bit annoying because that’s not the case,” Hedeman said.
“I was never not a good dad or a good father. People just think that because I was doing events and competing, that [my sons] were just way behind in the background and that it was a ‘I’d see ya when I see I see ya,’ kind of thing, and that just wasn’t the case.
“Now this is different with Riker. I’m not with his mother, but we were married for 26, 27 years. She was, she is a great mother, but you know we both were very involved in anything and everything that [Lane and Trevor] did everyday of their lives.
“And that’s the difference with Ryker. I don’t have that so whenever I have him, I’m responsible for 100 percent of his needs and I wouldn’t trade it, I wouldn’t trade them for money, or anything in the world.”
Those close to Hedeman have always been an integral part of who he is; people such as professional bull rider, and Hedeman’s best friend Lane Frost.
Frost passed away in 1989 after dismounting and being hit by a Brahma bull named Takin’ Care of Business.
“[Lane] just had such a significant influence on me because I met him at an age when I was still relatively young,” Hedeman said.
“I would say he was more mature, more advanced in his career.
“But in life ,what he saw, how he saw it, how he interpreted it and how he reacted to it. You know he was just a guy that, I learned a lot from him just being with him I think.
“I admired him in a lot of ways, and I think why we were such good friends was he admired the fact that I did some things that he wanted to do at times, but he just wouldn’t allow himself to because he was just always so conscious and aware of what people thought. He never wanted to disappoint anybody, regardless of who that was, and I was a little bit more of I didn’t ever give a rat’s ass about what people thought. I think I just didn’t care.
“But I was young and I was kind of subscribed to the theory of, I’m going to do what I’m going to do, and I don’t care what you think. If you like it, fine, if you don’t like, that’s fine, too.
“There’s still never a day that goes by that I don’t think about him in some way. He was one of the reasons that I’m doing what I’m doing today.”
Hedeman remains as strong willed as ever.
“If I know that I’m right, regardless of the circumstances, I’m not going to back down,” Hedeman said.
“Never have and I never will.”
Hedeman wants those who come out to enjoy his events to have an experience second to none, whether they are lifelong bull riding fans or attending their first event.
That is why he places such a heavy emphasis on prioritizing the fans.
“I think that the best thing about my events are that you don’t have to have a cowboy hat on, you don’t have to come from a rural or agriculture background to just come and enjoy the event,” Hedeman said.
“It’s very simple. Easy to understand, and you don’t have to be an expert. It’s a very fun and entertaining two hours. It’s fast paced, nonstop action.
“After the events, all the guys that come out meet the fans and take pictures, sign autographs. That’s something that you don’t get in a lot of sports. Usually, whenever the games or events are over they’re [the athletes] are gone and you don’t see them again.
“Your fans are such a huge part of your success or failure of a sport. I think a lot of people in other sports take the fans for granted.
“But certainly we don’t.”