The last rodeo by Ed Boks

Today is opening day for Prescott Frontier Days considered the World’s Oldest Rodeo.  Established in 1888, the event has occurred over every 4th of July weekend for 130 years – and features breath-taking performances that can result in animals suffering broken ribs, backs, and legs, torn tails, punctured lungs, internal organ damage, ripped tendons, torn ligaments, snapped necks, and agonizing deaths.

How can such mayhem exist in a state where animal cruelty is a felony?   In Arizona, rodeos are exempt from anti-cruelty laws.  In fact, the State of Arizona sanctions animal cruelty in activities involving hunting, ranching, farming, rodeos, shows and security services (ARS § 13-2910.05. Exempt activities).

A President’s Precedent

While contemplating how one might go about ending the madness of legalized rodeo cruelty, a friend shared an incidentally pertinent story told by Ronald Reagan at the 1984 Annual National Day of Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC.

The story was about a 5th century saint named Telemachus.  According to the contemporary writings of bishop Theodoret of Cyrus, Telemachus wasn’t born a saint.  In fact, he was an unruly young man, caught up in the pleasures of the day.  However, upon realizing the meaning of life could not be found in fun and excitement, he converted to Christianity and became a monk.

After a couple of years in the monastery, he decided to take the gospel to Rome.

According to the story, he arrived on January 1st, A.D. 404 – and as he walked through the city gates, he was swept up by a raucous crowd heading to the Coliseum.  Even though Christianity was declared the official religion of Rome by Emperor Theodosius in A.D. 380, the games continued.

Once in the Coliseum, Telemachus found a seat and asked those around him what all the excitement was about.  He was told the Romans had just defeated the Goths, and Emperor Honorius had commanded a circus to be held to celebrate the victory.

Telemachus noticed the emperor sitting on his throne, and watched as the gladiators line up in front of him and yelled, “We, who are about to die, salute you”.

In that moment, Telemachus understood what he had stumbled upon.  His bishop had told him about the Games in Rome.

The gladiators took up their weapons and the games began.  Telemachus could not believe his eyes.  (Remember your first rodeo?)  He was appalled by the spectacle.  In that moment he realized he had to do something.  But what could he, a lowly monk from out of town do?  From his seat, he stood up and yelled, “In the name of Jesus, stop!”

Telemachus at his last rodeo

No one heard him.  So he jumped into the arena.  The gladiators were so surprised by his sudden appearance that they stopped fighting and stared at him in bewilderment.  A stunned silence swept the Coliseum.

“In the name of Jesus, stop!” he yelled again.  Slowly, the silence turned to chuckles and then outright laughter.  One of the gladiators took a swing at Telemachus with his sword and barely missed him.  The other gladiators pointed their swords at Telemachus and chased him across the arena.  The crowd roared with laughter, thinking Telemachus was a clown brought in for comic relief.

Telemachus continued yelling as he ran, jumped, dodged and ducked the swords and spears of the gladiators.  With each passing moment his words grew clearer and louder, “In the name of Jesus, stop!”

Suddenly the gladiators were upon him.  When the dust cleared, Telemachus laid in a pool of his own blood, a sword in his chest.  The crowd fell silent.  With his last breath, his words echoed throughout the Coliseum one last time, “In the name of Christ, stop.”

Everyone sat stunned, staring at his lifeless body.  Quietly, one spectator got up from his seat and left, shaking his head in disbelief.  Then another; and another – until everyone left the Coliseum in silence.

Then the Gladiators put down their swords and walked out of the arena.

Emperor Honorius was so disturbed by the murder he just witnessed, that he banned gladiator games that very day – January 1st, A.D. 404.  They never resumed.  One man stood up against a cruel and senseless sport and just like that – it was their last rodeo…