This week, a Utah state senator named Allen Christensen made news by voting against a bill that would turn cockfighting from a misdemeanor into a felony. (It’s already a felony in most of the US.) The reasons he gave included: A) The birds “naturally want to do this thing in their lives,” and B) Utah allows women to have abortions, so why doesn’t it allow people to strap knives to roosters’ claws and get them to cut each other to pieces for entertainment? Obviously, Christensen is being a troll here, and he’s probably the kind of guy who mentions abortion when you ask him to pass the potatoes (“UNBORN FETUSES MURDERED BY THEIR LIBRUL MOTHERS CAN’T PASS ANYTHING TO ANYONE BECAUSE THEY’RE DEAD!”), but the story got me thinking: What if there’s a sliver of a point here? Why do we want to send people who run cockfighting rings to prison?
Let’s first go to the Humane Society, who have a pretty good definition of what cockfighting is and why you should want it banned if you give a shit about animals at all:
Obviously, yes, cockfighting is a barbaric blood sport, and if roosters are capable of conscious thought, they are almost definitely not like, Hell yeah, I want to get cut up by some other rooster with knives on his claws, while drunk humans shout at me! But if American lawmakers want to start passing bills that reflect a concern for poultry, maybe they should start with the 9 billion chickens that are killed and turned into food every year in the US. While a few of those birds no doubt live happy lives roaming around farmyards and pecking at the dirt, many more of those chickens have lives like this:
Now, bringing up chicken farms as an argument in favor of cockfighting is bullshit—it’s like saying, “This bad thing may not be so bad because some other bad thing is also happening.” Ideally, we would not routinely abuse animals for entertainment or because we want cheap meat at the grocery store. But it’s pretty clear that people are totally OK with animal cruelty in general, as long as it’s a passive, easy-to-ignore kind of cruelty, like jamming chickens into tiny cages and abusing pigs (that link is pretty rough). Cockfighting, like cat juggling, isn’t just cruel, it’s so barbaric that it feels like we should get rid of it. Those less visible forms of animal mistreatment affect many more animals than cockfighting—as far as I can tell from online research, there are just thousands of birds in the US cockfighting circuit. It's a fairly nasty hobby to have, but it's not exactly a national epidemic.
Besides animal cruelty, the other common complaint against cockfighting is that the people who do it are "bad people." As the Humane Society says, “Cockfighting often goes hand in hand with gambling, drug dealing, illegal gun sales, and murder.” That might be true, but should we start banning activities because they’re associated with crimes? Should we ban hanging out at bus stations at night? Because I’m pretty sure all of the crimes the Humane Society links to cockfighting go on at Greyhound stations all the time. (And do we really care that much about people betting on the fights?)
Changing cockfighting from a misdemeanor to a felony, as Utah is doing, is a convenient way for lawmakers to say that they don't like the sport, but it seems like the existing laws, plus people not being as cool with animals killing each other for our entertainment as they used to be, are wiping cockfighting out. (The New York Times reported on cockfighting's decline back in 2008.) Even if cockfighting got legalized, as this Abraham Lincoln-quoting online petition advocates, I doubt we’d start seeing roosters strutting and clawing each other on ESPN2. The sport is going to die out in the US eventually, even without showy police raids like this one:
Do the cops really need all that gear? Did this video really need that music?
What happens to the cocks after they get “rescued” in operations like that, by the way? Oh, right: “Almost all roosters seized from cockfighting operations have to be put down because they can't be around other roosters or birds without attacking them.” Man, it sure sucks to be poultry in the US, huh?
Here are some photos of cocks.