Chickening Out

Where's Super Chicken when his feathered brothers need him?

A bill that will make it a federal felony to transport game fowl (i.e. fighting roosters) across state lines already has more than 200 co-sponsors in the House and was recently introduced in the Senate by Maria Cantwell (D-Washington). If the bill passes, it could have a dramatic effect on the hundreds of cockfighting men in Texas who travel to New Mexico and Louisiana to compete in the blood sport.

When I went to a cock fight in Jal, New Mexico, earlier this month for this week's cover story, most of the "cockers" in attendance had come from Texas, some from as far away as Houston. They had come for the money (the pot was around $60,000), and they had come because in Texas cockfighting is a felony. Most I talked to said they would give up the sport altogether if it became a federal offense to transport game fowl across state lines or if cockfighting became illegal in New Mexico (the state legislature there will vote on a ban this year).

There are a lot of misconceptions about cockfighting. Cockfighters are not murderers or drug dealers, as they are sometimes portrayed by the mainstream media. To a man, the ones I met were polite and friendly. Most of them didn't even swear. Losers shook hands when the fight was over. There were no arguments, no fights. Most of the competitors knew each other. Some brought their children. Others sat in the stands with their wives. It did seem, as one man had described it to me, like a big family reunion.

Over and over I was told that cockfighting is an important part of the Hispanic culture, and that to outlaw it would not only be a form of discrimination, but also a violation of the Hidalgo treaty (which ended the Mexican-American war, and according to my cockfighting friends guaranteed Mexicans the right to practice certain customs in the United States, cockfighting being chief among them. The New Mexico Attorney General's Office, not surprisingly, has said the treaty has nothing to do with cockfighting).

It's worth noting, however, that the League of United Latin American Citizens has supported cockfighting bans, and its national president issued a statement in June saying that "these barbaric practices have no place in the Latino culture and society." John Goodwin, the deputy manager of animal fighting issues at the Humane Society, told me it would be "really unfair to saddle the Mexican people with that sort of baggage" and that I'd be "hard pressed to find any reputable organization representing that community that favors this crime."

In the end, what you think about cockfighting probably depends largely on where your from. Me, I'm from the country, and while I'm not sure I'd outlaw it, I found it pretty damn disturbing -- making roosters fight while rigor mortis is setting in, throwing them in trash cans while they're still breathing. Decide for yourself, read "The Chicken Man." And if you get bored, just skip to page 4, where the bloodletting really begins. --Jesse Hyde

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Patrick Williams is editor-in-chief of the Dallas Observer.
Contact: Patrick Williams