Picture this if you will. An enclosed pen, a smoke filled room reeking with the stale smell of sweat and alcohol. The crowd is comprised of mostly men who have gathered to watch two gladiators fight to the death. The atmosphere is tense with anticipation as the participants make their way to the ring. Bets are laid as to the outcome of the fight. Just who are these noble warriors that are getting ready to do battle? Two combatants will enter the ring, and only one, if they’re lucky, will leave!
Well, as it turns out, these gladiators aren’t men at all. In fact, quite the opposite, they’re chickens!
Okay, roosters to be more precise
The “sport” of cockfighting is one that pits two gamecocks against each other in a duel to the death. Nature, in its infinite wisdom, has seen fit to equip the participants with spurs that they would normally use to defend themselves. Apparently, when it comes to the sport of cockfighting, nature wasn’t good enough. The owners of these birds have taken to sawing off nature’s handiwork and replacing them with razor sharp steel blades that range anywhere between one to three inches in length. They use these in order to try and gaff and kill their worthy opponent.
Normally, these birds wouldn’t be so antagonistic towards each other and fights that occurred between them usually involved either mating territories and food sources. In order to cure that, the birds are often injected with stimulants designed to induce aggressive behavior. Some of the more popular ones include strychnine, caffeine, amphetamines and the ever popular epinephrine.
One might be tempted to say “So what? They’re just chickens!” To that statement I’d offer up the following. After your typical cockfighting tournament is over, over half to two thirds of the participants are dead. Those lucky enough to survive usually suffer some form of permanent injury such as gouged eyes, punctured lungs and the inevitable broken wing or two. Chances are, they won’t survive a second fight.
Once thought of as an ethnic tradition, cockfighting is now banned in 47 states. New Mexico, Oklahoma and Louisiana are the only states that haven’t fully banned the practice. Louisiana is making some headway though, most counties have laws on the books designed to prevent the activity. As a matter of fact, in 22 states it is a federal offense to engage in the "sport". In 33 states, you can be charged with a crime for just watching a cockfight take place.
As we all know, just making something illegal doesn’t prevent it from occurring. In the backwoods and the bayou’s the sport still goes on despite law enforcement's efforts to put an end to the practice. It seems that some folks who have “grown up” battling these roosters refuse to change their ways.
Personal note: Here in my adopted home state of Ohio, which I consider quite civilized, it isn’t uncommon to read about cockfighting tournaments getting busted every now and then. Usually, about a thousand or so birds meet their end during an “average” tournament. I shudder to think what goes on in more isolated locations.