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Archive for February, 2016


Posted by gamecocksunlimited on February 10, 2016

Some Sociological Observation On A Socially Disvalued Sport By Clifton D. Bryant, Ph.D.

Variations of this paper were delivered as the Plenary Address at the 5th annual meeting of the United Gamefowl Breeders’ Association held in Tulsa, Oklahoma on July 25-26, 1981, and as the Keynote Address at the annual meeting of the Virginia Gamefowl Breeders’ Association held in Charlottesville, Virginia on October 3, 1981.

Dr. Bryant is a Professor of Sociology and Head of the Department of Sociology at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He is currently writing a book on the sport of cockfighting.

Copyright 1982, Clifton D. Bryant. All rights reserved. Used by permission of the author.

THE ORIGIN OF COCKFIGHTING is lost in antiquity. Inasmuch as the sport began before the dawn of recorded history, there is no record of chronical to which we may turn for insight. One reasonable scenario suggest s that cockfighting was “found” or “discovered” rather than a “manmade” creation. Perhaps in a time of pre-civilization, probably somewhere in Southeast Asia, a group of men may have set out on a food gathering expedition, seeking to catch small animals or reptiles, or find the eggs of birds, and may have stumbled upon a pair of wild gamecocks fighting in a jungle clearing. The birds that they may have observed were quite likely the black breasted, red jungle fowl of India or the grey jungle fowl of Malaya, both of which are alleged to be the progenitors of the modern fighting cock.

Those prehistoric en, probably unnoticed by the birds who were preoccupied by their combat, may have silently watched the fight, fascinated by the spectacle of nature asserting its law of territoriality and the attendant survival of the fittest. Profoundly impressed by what they saw, the men may have subsequently sought to intrude on other such natural fights, and in time, after they had captured specimens of wild game fowl (including cocks) to keep for their eggs, or to be eaten at some later time, probably had occasion to set the cocks together to recreate the contest between the birds that they had observed in the jungle. Following such a scenario, there is little doubt that cockfighting is the oldest spectator sport on earth – the longest running show in captivity, as it were.

Cockfighting was apparently well known throughout the Far East and was avidly embraced by the various peoples there including the Chinese, the Malay, and other Oriental groups, etc., for centuries before the sport diffused westward. In India the “Manavadharmacastra” or “Institute of Manu” were systems of laws and rules of conduct, and contained regulations concerning cockfighting. These laws are at least 30 centuries old and thus cockfighting at least on a more informal basis must be much older. Actually, it was not known in Europe prior to the Phoenician era. As cockfighting moved westward, it was taken up by the Persians and subsequently, the Macedonians and Greeks. Legend has it that the Greek military leader, Themistocles, leading his army against the Persians, interrupted the march of his legions to permit his men to observe a cockfight in the hopes that they might be inspired by the courage of the birds. The Greeks, after their last successful war with the Persians in 479 B.C., stage cockfights in Athens and other Greek cities in commemoration of the event. Some measure of the Greeks’ affection for fighting cocks can be obtained from the fact that in the Theatre at Athens, on the chair of the high priest of Dionysus, there is carved a winged Eros, holding a gamecock.

From the Greeks, cockfighting spread throughout Asia Minor, Sicily and was taken up by the Romans. It is at this point in history, however, that the first suggestion of the social condemnation of cockfighting, with the attendant stigma, appears. Originally the Romans disdained the cockfighting predilection of the Greeks, derisively referring to the sport as “the Greek Diversion.” In time, however, they became even more enthusiastic participants than the Greeks. Their own preoccupation with cockfighting and the attendant gambling was such that it prompted Columbella, the Roman writer of the first century A.D., to comment that the “devotees (of cockfighting) often spent their entire patrimony in betting at the pitside.”

The Romans, some authorities relate, added iron spurs called teta to the cocks’ heels, thereby making the fights faster and more deadly. Other sources suggest that the practice of using metal spurs first originated in the East Indies with the goal of making the natural spurs more dangerous. The Persians, however, used conical, hollow spurs over the natural spurs as a means of matching cocks and insuring the same length of spurs as an equitable factor in the fights. Inasmuch as such spurs were often made of precious materials such as gold and silver presumably only the rich could afford to indulge in cockfights where the birds wore artificial spurs and the common people fought their birds in the traditional way – with “naked heels.” The Romans are also reported to have been the first to stage “organized” cockfights. Presumably the Romans provided a degree of formality and regulation to the sport which had been previously lacking. They were also known to have administered stimulants to their cocks in order to cause the birds to fight more aggressively. Other Mediterranean peoples took up the sport and it was also carried to Western Europe and England by Roman colonizers.

Fighting cocks, since their original domestication, have represented something more than mere diversion. In Indian folklore, the cock is often depicted as the sponsor of love affairs because of his perpetual erotic excitement. Zarathustra, the founder of the Zoroastrianism religion, termed the rooster, the “sacred herald of the day.” The followers of the religion he founded, the Indian Parsees, venerated the cock as the symbol of the sun, and accordingly do not eat the bird. The Greeks considered the cock to be the symbol of pugnacity, and the Gauls used the cock as their own symbol because of its pride and virility. Throughout ancient times, the cock figures prominently in religious ritual, mythology and magical manipulation. Cocks were worshipped by the Babylonians, Syrians, and Greeks. Cocks were used to cure maladies, insure the fertility of soil and man, and to protect from demons, devils, and the dead. The cock assumed religious significance as sacrificial offering for the Persians and Greeks, and as symbols of resurrection and immortality to early Christians.


Cockfighting continued as a major avocational diversion among the Romans for centuries. By the Christian era, however, it was opposed by the Church. By this time, however, it had been culturally diffused into the other Medeterranean areas such as Spain, and into much of western Europe, including the Low Countries and Germany, where it also enjoyed an enthusiastic following. Although cockfighting was probably introduced into England by the Romans before the time of Caesar, it was little mentioned by English scholars before the reign of Henry II. By then, it had become a popular sport even with school boys. Cockfight matches or “mains” as they were called were even held inside churches and schools. Cockfights were especially prominent on holidays, and the sport reached an annual climax on Shrove Tuesday (the last day before the fast of Lent) when students brought cocks to school and the whole day was devoted to fights. Parents were expected to give their children money known as “cock-pence” to support the purchase and keep of the birds. The schoolmasters directed the fights and to them the dead birds accrued. Presumably the dead birds from these matches provided a last feast before Lent.

Allegedly, until cockfighting moved into Europe, cocks were matched in the open, but when the birds carried their fight out into the crowd, spectators were sometimes injured by the birds’ spurs. To solve this problem, round pits or “cockpits” were dug as a means of protecting the onlookers. In time, cockpits were to become quite common throughout Europe and England. Cockfighting was a popular pastime of the common people in England, and from the twelfth century onward, cockpits were common fixtures in English villages.

Henry VIII elevated cockfighting to a “royal diversion” or royal sport when he had a cockpit constructed in the regal manner at his palace, Whitehall. Subsequent monarchs such as James I and Charles II were said to be enthusiastic fans of cockfighting. There were efforts to suppress cockfighting, however, and Oliver Cromwell did manage to outlaw it for a time during his rule. After Charles II was restored to the throne, cockfighting was revived as a popular national avocation. Opposition to cockfighting began to appear, however. The early objections to cockfighting were less concerned with the inherent cruelty to animals as with the probable influence which the sport had on the participants. Although in time, the ancillary questions of cruelty to animals was raised.

Over the next several hundred years in England, there were many vigorous social reform efforts addressing a wide variety of activities and concerns. One of these concerns was the abuse of animals and in this connection, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was founded in 1824. The RCPCS was successful in having a number of repressive laws passed. This organization sought to prohibit the use of animals in various sports such as bull and bear baiting, dog fights, and, of course, cockfights. They also actively oppose hunting, the use of animals for medical experimentation, and the employment of animals in certain types of commercial practices, such as the use of dog carts to deliver goods. Cockfighting was very much rooted in custom and culture, however, and the enforcement of animal cruelty laws in regard to cockfighting was less effective initially than in the case of other animals. In some instances, when Constables attempted to interfere with cockfights, the crowds of observers threw missiles and rocks at the officers. Throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century, the RSPCA and other humanitarian groups made additional efforts to provide legislative protection for animals.

Cockfighting even in the face of strenuous legislative and enforcement efforts in the country, never entirely disappeared from the English scene. During the middle and late 1800’s when enforcement officials tried to suppress cockfighting and report individuals who had engaged in the sport to the authorities, they were often viewed as spies by the public and authorities. Cockfighting in defiance of legal constraints became a clandestine recreational activity, especially in small rural towns and villages. Although never approaching the clandestine extent of cockfighting in America in contemporary times, nevertheless, cockfighting persisted in England until today and can still be found in the rural areas.


The sport of cockfighting was introduced to America by English colonists, perhaps as early as 1650. As in England it enjoyed considerable popularity as a pastime. It was popular in all of the colonies but seemed to be especially so in the Middle and Southern colonies. The Puritan ethic prevalent in much of New England tended to dampen the enthusiasm of participants in cockfighting and other sports. In this connection, cockfighting along with other so-called “blood sports,” was condemned by some segments of the population, as well as the authorities. Among these stigmatized sports were bull baiting, bear baiting, cockfighting, and gander pulling. Such activities were considered to be a waste of valuable time and pastimes suited more to riff-raff, gamblers, or degenerates, than to honest productive citizens.

In the absence of commercialized and more urban recreational patterns, horse racing, cockfighting and other blood sports, however, filled the gap. Cockfighting for example, was a common activity at the various fairs held throughout the colonies, and was a popular pastime on holidays. In some of the middle Atlantic colonies, horse racing clubs were established, and cockfighting was not infrequently included in the day’s events after the races were over. One writer has pointed out that, “the first know club organized in North Carolina for purpose of conducting cockfights as well as horse races, was the Wilmington Jockey Club which held its first meeting November 26, 1774.” That cockfighting was a college, albeit forbidden, activity, it is noted by the fact that in 1779, one of the student regulations of the University of North Carolina states that, “a student shall not keep cocks or fowls of any kind, or for any purpose.” Cockfights were also commonly staged at taverns and inns for the amusement of the customers and guests. In revolutionary times, the large number of British troops in the Colonies increased in size of the cockfight following as the sports offered diversion to both enlisted men and officers, as one author has pointed out:

Cockfighting to say nothing of animal baiting, had its devotees among the aristocracy as well as among the common people. The diary of the chaplain of the English troops makes frequent references to the mains he attended: Prayers, visited at night ye fighting cocks, or “I was late at ye fight cocks”.

Even though visiting European nobility might write critically about the Colonial’s preoccupation with cockfighting and other avocational pursuits, the Americans never waivered in their devotion to such sports. George Washington was reported to have been an avid devotee of cockfighting. Some accounts have Washington as maintaining a flock of Irish Greys, but it is also known that he imported a flock of Yellow Pyles or Piles from New Orleans. In a letter preserved in the archives of the Virginia Historical Society, Washington invited Thomas Jefferson to come to Mount Vernon and join him for some sport, and specifically mentioned his Yellow Pile birds. Investigators coming across the reference to Yellow Pile have allegedly misinterpreted the phrase to mean “yellow pine,” the local word for a mulatto, and from this error, it is said that some of the stories about Washington’s virtue have arisen. Subsequent presidents like Andrew Jackson and even Abraham Lincoln, who was known to sometimes officiate in the cockfight, received the nickname of “Honest Abe” because of his reputation for fairness in refereeing cockfights. One fragmentary description of Lincoln in the cockpit does confirm the assertion that he refereed fights.

They form a ring, and the time having arrived, Lincoln, with one hand on each hip and in a squatting position, cried, “Ready”. Into the ring they toss their fowls, Bap’s red rooster along with the rest. But no sooner had the little beauty discovered what was to be done that he dropped his tail and ran.

Andrew Jackson had been, of course, a cock raiser and gambler. One account of Jackson as a young man in North Carolina described him as “the most roaring, rollicking, game-cocking, horse-racing, card-playing, mischievous fellow that ever lived in Salisbury.” Among his papers wa found a memorandum on how to feed a cock before a fight.

American cities began to grow as the industrialization of the nineteenth century got underway, and they were aided in this growth by the influx of immigrants from abroad, and the migrants from rural areas. The great masses of workers in the cities were restless, and sought diversion after the monotony of work in the mills and factories.

The urban interest in cockfighting equaled that of the rural segment of the population, both aristocracy and commoners. Cocking mains were popular everywhere and the public preoccupation in some quarters was such that the term “cockamania” was sometimes applied to the overly zealous enthusiasm for such fights.

With the advent of the Civil War, the troops on both sides found amusement and diversion, both as spectators and participants in cockfights, since they often staged their own fights when in the field. At least one military unit Company H of the Third Tennessee Infantry, kept a gamecock as the mascot. When it died in 1864, it was buried with full military honors.

Cockfighting had become a near ubiquitous sport and pastime, available to rich and poor, urban and rural dweller alike. It was not without its detractors, however. Ministers, in America as in England, began to denounce cockfighting and other blood sports as barbarous and irreligious. The parishioners did not always respond positively to such condemnation and admonitions. The story is told of a Vicar of the Church of England, who in 1772 in England preached a sermon against the abuse of animals, and discovered that his parishioners had received his sermon with “almost universal disgust” and had concluded that their “priest had either turned Methodist or gone mad.” Legislation aimed at suppressing cockfighting was introduced without success in several states including North Carolina in 1824, and Pennsylvania in 1830. The objection of cockfighting as with other blood sports, was based as much on the supposed demoralizing and dehumanizing effect of the sport as on the cruelty to animals. As Macaulay in England was reported to have succinctly put it in referring to bear baiting (as a blood sport), it should not be put down so much because the bears pain as because it gave spectators pleasure. Blood sports such as cockfighting were believed by many to be socially deleterious, “on the ground that spectators such scenes of cruelty became thoroughly demoralized,” and that “to witness cruel sports enfeebled the noblest faculties of the soul.” In spite of growing public sentiment to the contrary, actual legislation against animal cruelty was slower to come.

As laws prohibiting cockfighting were passed by different states, not everyone was supportive, and especially the real cockfighting enthusiasts. Abraham Lincoln, for one, was alleged to have been opposed to such laws. When asked if he would support anti-cockfighting law, he is reported to have replied:

As long as the Almighty permits intelligent man created in His image and likeness to fight in public and kill each other while the world looks on approvingly, it is not for me to deprive the chicken of the same privilege.

In spite of the enthusiastic following which cockfighting commanded, it could not openly continue in the face of attacks of the S.P.C.A. and the public opinion campaign fostered by the clergy and the press. Cockfighting went underground where it has largely stayed until the middle of the 20th century. The process of going “underground” did not diminished the size and scope of cockfighting. If anything, its clandestine nature may have even added to it zest.

In the twentieth century, in spite of legislative restraints and humanitarian efforts to the contrary, cockfighting had settled into its institutionalized and sometimes clandestine, routine being more or less tolerated depending on the section of the country and the moral proclivities of the particular rural or urban setting. In the West, the “wide-open spaces,” and large land holding provided a great degree of privacy and insulation from legal interference with whatever avocational interest people might wish to pursue. There was a tendency to “mind one’s own business,” and let others do the same. The East, perhaps, saw the strongest efforts at the suppression of cockfighting and other blood sports. In spite of such efforts, cockfighting persisted, and flourished as an underground or “forbidden” sports until today.

Cockfighting, one of man’s oldest diversions, has persisted in the face of legal constraints, often hostile public sentiment, and religious proscriptions. Stigmatized, condemned, abused and harassed, cockfighting, perhaps as old as Eve and the apple, pursues its anachronistic existence as the forbidden sport.

Some Sociological Conclusions

What can be inferred from an overview of the history of cockfighting? 1. As stated earlier, cockfighting would appear to be the oldest spectator sport, with an attendant rich cultural history. 2. Cockfighting would also appear to be among the most universal of all spectator sports, inasmuch at one time or another , in many, if not most of the temperate, semi-tropical, and tropical societies of the world. 3. Cockfighting certainly would seem to be the most “durable” of spectator sports in that it has persisted in the face of sporadic opposition, criticism, and condemnation, for fifty centuries. Cockfighters have been legally harassed, and socially stigmatized and abused because of their predilection, and yet have staunchly pursue their avocation in the face of such annoyance and even persecution. 4. Cockfight contains an inherent symbolism, excitement, and reflection of the dynamics of the laws of nature that spectators and fanciers find aesthetically compelling, psychologically engaging, and socially satisfying. 5. Cockfighting has an almost incredibly wide appeal, attracting and entertaining persons of all ages; both sexes; many different ethnic, racial, and nationality categories; various educational levels; and of the several social classes. Cockfighting is, in effect, everybody’s entertainment. My own studies of the socio-economic and socio-psychological characteristics of cockers and cockfighting enthusiasts suggest that they are in no way “different” from the rest of the population but simply reflect mainstream America. 6. Cockfighting may well be growing in popularity in recent years, rather than declining, but it may also be socially imperiled than ever before in its history (more about this later). 7. Cockfighting has had a profound and pervasive influence on he fabric of Amarican culture and nowhere is this more obvious than in our language. Cockfighting has certainly had its impact in that regard. Consider the array of words and phrases in common usage deriving from the sport: the “cockpit” of an airplane or boat: he is a “cocky” little fellow: “don’t” get your feathers ruffled.” “cockeyed,” “cock-sure,””show the white feather,” opponents in sports are “pitted” against each other; “cock-strong,” “turn-tail,” “getting his hackles up,” “cock-of-the-walk,” “cockamania,”being “crestfallen,” and “digging his spurs in,” to name some language usages. Most famous of all, however, is the word “cocktail” which historically derives from a brew called cock-ale used, at one time, to feed gamecocks during training, and from an earlier custom of toasting the winning cock after a match with a drink with the same number of ingredients as the number of tail feathers left to the wining bird.


Historically, cockfighting has been condemned and opposed for several reasons: 1. As a sport, avocation, or entertainment, cockfighting was a nonproductive use of time and, thus, antithetical to the Puritan and Protestant Ethic, and to the spirit of work and craftsmanship. In short, It was a waste of time. (idle hands and all that – nothing to show for it – no profit!) In an earlier time in Western Society, any use of time other than work was to be condemned. This criticism has been largely eroded and neutralized by the 40 hour work week, the paid vacation, holidays, the declining need to work (i.e., investments, etc.) and the rise of the Leisure Ethic value system presently perant in our society. 2. Cockfighting has traditionally been opposed because it was assumed that it was a demoralizing activity. The indolence, and corruption which it presumably promoted, supposedly tended to destroy character and precipitate bad habits if not crime and violence. In short, it was said to be a bad influence., It had the reputation of being a degenerate activity that attracted unsavory individuals and the general ambience was decadent. This argument can also be essentially dismissed. Again, my own studies suggest that cockers are no more corrupted or degenerate than the general public. There is no scientific evidence whatsoever that observing cockfights turns one into a psychotic, criminal, or amoral person. There is no reason to believe that it promotes lack of ambition, erodes character, or precipitates interpersonal violence. In short, it is probably as innocuous a spectator sport as basketball, or horseracing. Probably, violent television shows, automobile racing, ice hockey, or boxing matches are more prone to precipitate interpersonal violence on the part of the spectators than does cockfighting. Cockfighting may well hav an opposite type of influence (as will be discussed later). 3. Cockfighting , especially since the middle nineteenth century, has been stigmatized, condemned, and legally attacked as being violent and cruel to animals. Both violence and cruelty are highly relative terms, culturally speaking which is to say that there is a widely divergent definition of these terms from culture to culture, and from historical time to historical time. In regard to violence, torture and burning at the stake were considered to be moral punishments within the last several centuries. Public hangings in the U.S. continued up to the 1920’s, and in France the execution by guillotine was still public as recently as 1939. The U.S. has the reputation of being a particularly violent society, and our history a violent history. Certainly, we seem to dote on violent activities, automobile racing, which not infrequently involves wrecks and deaths. We avidly read about violence in the newspapers. Our favorite TV programs and movies has been Western war dramas, mysteries, and “cops and robbers” stories. Our games and team sports, such as ice hockey and football are violent and often involve blood, injury, and even death. Prize fighting, of course, is often a very bloody sport (and we even enjoy movies such as “Rocky”). Our literature is violent, our crimes are violent, our sportsare violent, and even our daily activities and amusements are often violent. Cockfighting, which only involves the death of a chicken, relatively speaking, would sem to represent only micro-violence in comparison with say, the Indianapolis 500 auto race replete with blazing wrecks and deaths, or boxing matches where humans sometimes are blinded, paralyzed or even die as a result of the battering their face and head sustains. Several years back, an article in Esquire reported that when Little Red Lopez and David Kotey fought for the world featherweight championship, there was considerable violence inflicted on the participants. Kotey required 38 stitches to close up the cuts in his face and Lopez needed four stitches. I would submit that the violence inherent in cockfighting must be seen in proper perspective against the backdrop of mass violence which is constituent to American culture. 4. The charge of cruelty to animals often level at cockfighting is also seen to be a matter of interpretation and cultural relativity. The critics of cockfighting speak of the unnecessary abuse and death of animals. The critics of hunting (and fishing) level similar charges against it. Such criticisms must also be viewed in proper perspective. In recent times there is more tendency to anthropomorphize animals – the Bambi syndrome, as it were!). This tendency grows out of various elements in our popular culture such as Walt Disney cartoons and movies, books about animals with an animal narrator, and comic strips about animals such as Pogo. For many persons, animals are simply furry humans. With the decline of the large family, many individuals such as older couples, or young childless couples, use animals as surrogate children. Also as Americans have move from the farm and become urbanized, they have taken more of an affective view and less of an instrumental perspective of animals. More simply put, people no longer slaughter hogs or beefs, or wring a chicken’s neck before Sunday dinner. Instead, they eat their hamburgers at McDonalds or their chicken at Colonel Sanders and forget where the meat comes from. Animals are animals, not human! For thousands of years men have hunted animals, or raised and slaughtered them for food and hides,and fought them for entertainment. There is a social benefit derived from hunting animals or watching them fight just as there is a benefit derived from slaughtering them for food. In regard to the subject of the lower animals killed in a slaughter house or a laboratory, Pope Pius XII indicated that: …their cries should not arouse unreasonable compassion any more than do red-hot metals undergoing the blows of the hammer (or), seedlings spoiling underground (or), branches cracking when they are pruned (or), grain that is surrendered to the harvester, wheat being ground by the milling machine.”

  1. Without going into a convoluted anthropological and psychiatric analysis of such activities, it suffices to say that it is probably as much the nature of man to hunt animals or watch animals fight as it is in the nature of animals to fight. In this connection, I might point out that throughout history, and in much of the world, there has been some form of pitting animals against each other, or a human against an animal. Elephants fights were popular in India, camel fights have a large following in some Arabic countries, and the Siamese fight Beta fish. You may have heard of or seen a kangaroo-man, or bear-man boxing match, and everyone knows of the popularity of bullfights in Spain and Mexico. Hunting and particularly big game hunting, is a kind of human-animal fight, just as rodeo is a kind of “fight” between man and wild horse or bovine. To understand these activities it must be recalled that all societies have to deal with the problem of innate violence that is presumably constituent to humans and, thus, to social groups. In some instancesthis is handled through various mechanisms or rituals for the enactment of symbolic violence such as the jousting and tournaments of medieval times. Japanese Sumo wrestling (or wrestling in this country) or the “Potlatch” parties of the Kwakiutl Indians where one symbolically subdues a rival byh conspicuously destroying all of your belongings in a bonfire. In other societal instances, surrogate violence is employed. Examples might include the battle of David and Goliath, boxing matches, most modern body contact spectator sports, and , or course, different variations of animal or human/animal fights such as bullfights or cockfights. These are simply cultural devices for the sublimation or channelization of violence. Psychiatrists and anthropologists have written many volumes analyzing the social symbolism of the bullfight, and at least one anthropologist has devoted considerable attention to the cultural meaning of cockfighting in Bali (in Indonesia) wher there is an almost pathological devotion to the sport. According to this anthropologist, for the Balinese, the cockfight is a kind of miniature, symbolic form of life itself. In the cockpit they se man and beast, good and evil, ego and id. They see the acting out of confrontation with challenge that is the very meaning of life itself. The cocks are extensions of their owner’s egos and are surrogate participants in this symbolic re-enactment of life and status struggle. As such, the cockfight has great carthartic and psychological, as well as social benefit. Cockfighters in the country also speak of the lessons of the cockpit. They, too find a symbolic representation of life and its challenges in the cockpit. Cockers speak of the examples of “gameness,” courage, and determination in their birds, and talk of their pride in the birds they have raised and trained (Charles Wiliford in his novel Cockfighter, has his fictional protagonist observe, “As far back as 320 B.C., an old poet named Chanakya wrote that a man can learn four things from a cock, to fight, to get up early, to eat with family, and to protect his spouse when she gets in trouble”) They find in the cockpit a deeper reality than simply the spectacle of two roosters fighting. There is also a vicarious involvement of self in the very dynamics of life and death itself. As one cocker at a match summed it up:

There isn’t a man here who is not just as game as his damn roosters…

Cockfighting would seem to involve no more cruelty to animals than the slaughtering of them for food (particularly Kosher slaughtering) or hunting or trapping, or rodeo, or greyhound coursing, or falconry, or bullfighting or many of the other forms of entertainment involving animals. Furthermore, cockfighting, as a cultural mechanism of surrogate violence, has many redeeming social benefits in addition to its patent entertainment value. In addition to the channelization of violence, it teaches many important symbolic lessons, generates fellowship and camaraderie and promotes regularized competition and sportsmanship, among others. And yet, cockfighting is singled out for legal harassment and social stigmatization, more so than any other animal related entertainment activity. 6. In recent years, a more enlightened legislative and judicial posture has obviously improved the state and local situation for cockfighting in some areas. But now cockfighting facesa a more ominous threat to its existence in the form of federal regulatory constraints. In the absence of a vigorious counterattack by cockers, the regulatory situation can only deteriorate. 7. Another clear and present danger to cockfighting is the recent concerted social movement bearing the name “animal liberation.” The movement is gathering considerable impetus and its recent momentum is increasingly bringing it into conflict with various value systems, of technological economic, or social mode, with which it is unalterably uncompatible. In Europe “animal liberation” already has achieved considerable success and animal husbandry there is burdened by an incredible array of regulatory legislation motivated by animal welfare concerns. In Denmark, for example, laying hens must now by law be maintained in a yard rather than in a wire cage. The most efficient implementation of poultry science technology calls for the maintenance of laying hens in cages. There is wide concern and apprehension among agricultural scientists and persons in agribusiness that if we should follow the European and British lead in the treatment of farm animals, or even go beyond them, our agricultural capacity might be crippled beyond our ability to feed our nation’s population, much less export food. Thus, we could have a social dilemma involving the rights of a chicken to have a “natural” quantity of exercise room (Singer) versus the rights of an American to be able to afford eggs even if only on only a modest income. If animal liberation threatens agriculture and the meat industry, it also threatens cockfighting. In the final analysis, cockfighting is going to confront new challenges and new critics. Hopefully, it will take a lesson from its birds, and rise to these challenges and respond to the critics with appropriate “gameness.” Cockfighting has a long, rich, and colorful history and tradition, upon which to draw for strength and direction, and an eminently logical and functional cultural rationalization upon which to base a justification for its existence and continuance! Cockfighting must persevere. Cockfighting is, after all, the oldest spectator sport on earth – the longest running show in captivity as it were, it has a reputation for persistence in the face of adversity, to which it must live up! Let us hope the sport will be around for another 5,000 years!


  1. Quoted in Dulles, Foster Rhea. A History of Recreation: America Learns to Play (Second Edition), New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1965, p.52. 2. Herndon, William H., and Jesse W. Weik, Life of Lincoln, New York, 1896, pp 108-109. 3. This quotation was cited by Kansas State Supreme Court Justice, John Trontron, when that court ruled that cockfighting was not illegal under the state’s law concerning cruelty to animals. (See Lock v. Falkenstine, Okl.Cr. 380 P 2d278). 4. Quoted in Carson, Gerald, Men Beasts, and Gods: A History of Cruelty and Kindness to Animals, New York:Scrilner’s, 1972.



May 1982 and June 1982, The Gamecock Magazine


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