“Religion and cockfighting built this country.” (Carter Kinchen, Louisiana)
“It’s my heritage. I guess there are other people that want to be president of the United States or senators or whatever. Me, I want to be a cockfighter.” (Clarence Bunch, Louisiana)
“You have people who have never lived a rural lifestyle trying to impress their values on us.” (George Day, Oklahoma)
When Louisiana became the final state to ban cockfighting (effective August 2008), “cockers” decried the law as an attack (by the ignorant and naive) on their heritage and culture. Cockfighting, for them, is part of the local economy and has a long and storied past (possibly Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, and even Lincoln). Besides, it is not cruel like dogfighting (Bunch: “Dogs are your friend. …Not to say I don’t like my chickens, but they are not my friend.”). And legal or not, they say, it cannot be stopped (Kinchen: “I’m going to just go underground, fight them here and yonder.”).
Currently, cockfighting is illegal in all 50 states, but only a misdemeanor in 11. 9 states carry no penalty for spectating (a misdemeanor in NY). Cockfighting is still allowed in Puerto Rico, Guam, and American Samoa, and is particularly popular (and legal) in much of Latin America and Southeast Asia. The soft consequences, measured against potential earnings, leave many fighters willing to flout the law. John Goodwin of the HSUS says, “If you can win a $40,000 prize, what kind of deterrent is a $200 misdemeanor penalty going to be?” As for toothless (or nonexistent) patron penalties, common sense dictates that the industry would not exist but for spectator gambling. Eliminate the money, eliminate the fights. Since every state has agreed that cockfighting is a wrong, why not one overarching statute (federal) that makes participating, possessing, and most importantly, spectating (people cheering violence, suffering, and destruction) felony violations?
The modern gamecock endures a grueling training regimen: kept on tethers; made to fly at workbenches feet-first; forced up ramps within sight of an elusive live-target hen; thrown at unnatural angles to hone balancing skills; taught aggression and endurance in sparring matches; and often pumped with steroids and other drugs to promote muscle growth, quicken reflexes, and induce fearlessness. He will have his comb and wattle lopped (“dubbing”), and his natural spurs will be replaced with razor-sharp knives or icepick-like “gaffs” (up to 3″ long) to facilitate flesh-tearing, bloodletting, and death (cockers argue that these accouterments shorten the battle, making them humane). As the cocks face off in the pit, feathers fly, bones are broken, eyes and lungs are punctured (sometimes their handlers will attempt to suck the suffocating blood from their beaks), one or both falter, and usually, one dies. The loser (and sometimes the winner) is trashed.
In defense, cockfighters refer to the rooster’s natural pecking order. Oklahoman Jeffrey Pearce, who owned a cockfighting farm, said, (NY Times) “We don’t make them fight. Their sole purpose in life is to fight.” While true that roosters establish a hierarchy, this typically involves nothing more than a show (ritualistic dancing, feather-fluffing, comb-pecking). The winner crows in triumph; the loser assumes a defeated pose. Because they are programmed for survival, one rooster knows when to back down (with an ability to escape the conflict), and truly aggressive behavior is reserved for protecting the flock against predators. In other words, they are not hardwired to tear each other to shreds. That is an evil human invention.