Cockfighters defy the law, and on national television no less

By on February 24, 2017 with 30 Comments

I am used to the nattering and claptrap of people who try to justify or excuse their acts of animal cruelty. They may dress it up as some kind of tradition, a personal right or freedom, a sort of social norm, or even an economic necessity. In addition to offering up their particular set of excuses, these folks, almost to a one, inevitably deny that animals have feelings or suffer.

So much of that sociopathy and off-the-cuff legal theorizing was on display in a TV segment on cockfighting in America that I caught last night on “HBO Real Sports.” The piece focused principally on cockfighters and cockfighting in Oklahoma and in Puerto Rico. Cockfighting is illegal in both jurisdictions under federal law, and Oklahoma, like all other states, has its own anti-cockfighting statute. HBO gave viewers a window into cockfighting exhibitionists, who see no problem in putting their vice and blood-loving instincts on display for the world to see. Host Bryant Gumbel was as dumbfounded as any civilized viewer would be that these people were so brazen about violating the law, and he wondered aloud how this is occurring in our day.

While the Puerto Rican cockfighters may be unfamiliar with the federal law and believe what they do in their arenas is legally permissible, there’s no such excuse for the Oklahoma cockfighters who appeared on the show. I know a good bit about one of the cockfighters featured, and he was an outspoken opponent of a ballot measure that voters in the state approved in 2002 to outlaw the practice in Oklahoma. He’s traveled the country lecturing to cockfighters and other animal users that they can disregard anti-cruelty laws and live by some sort of non-existent higher law of their own.

He and others made it pretty clear that they are unapologetic about continuing to fight birds and participating in derbies. HBO showed one of the men handling fighting birds on his property, while others bragged about the winnings they’ve claimed at derbies where they’ve done well. One cockfighter said he entered 10 birds in a derby and his birds won nine of their fights, resulting in winnings of $95,000 for him.

In the last 15 years, we’ve worked with allies in Congress to upgrade the federal law four times. It’s now a felony to fight birds, to transport birds for fighting purposes, to possess birds for fighting, to sell cockfighting implements, and to bring a minor to a cockfight. It’s a federal misdemeanor to be a spectator at an animal fight.

Last month, a Virginia man was sentenced to two years in prison for taking a minor to a cockfight in Kentucky. This is a direct result of the passage of the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, which was strongly backed by The HSUS and the Humane Society Legislative Fund, and included as a provision in the 2014 Farm Bill. Law enforcement officials have arrested dozens under the federal anti-animal fighting statutes.

“Cockfighting is illegal in all 50 states and anyone who participates in this crime, or breeds birds for the purpose of fighting, should be charged and prosecuted,” says John Thompson, deputy executive director of the National Sheriffs’ Association. “The NSA recognizes the gravity of this crime because cockfighting is cruel and a criminal underground enterprise associated with illegal drug dealing and gambling. It not only endangers animals but our communities.”

For all of the political divisions we have, the vast majority of Americans possess a common set of values that call on us to adhere to the rule of law. We have perhaps a million men and women who serve in law enforcement at different levels of government, we have tens of thousands of prosecutors who bring charges against people alleged to have violated the law, and we have thousands of judges who adjudicate legal proceedings and issue penalties to the violators. No person is above the law, including people who trot out garbage-can theories on why it’s their right to do as they please.

We’ve never treated the law as an endpoint in our work. Once a law is on the books, it must be enforced, and that’s where we rely on local, state, and federal law enforcement officials to act on anti-cruelty laws. Every year, we work to train thousands of dedicated people in law enforcement to investigate and prosecute crimes of animal cruelty. We help the USDA obtain necessary resources from Congress to oversee the federal animal fighting law. And we do our own investigations to bring information to light that law enforcement officials can act upon.

The brazen and brash preening of the cockfighters on the HBO show cannot be tolerated. By their own admission, they think they have special rights. In reality, they are criminals in the waiting. You can be sure that we won’t rest until justice is done and states and other jurisdictions involved take action to stop these malicious acts of cruelty and disregard for the rule of law.


Animal Rescue and Care, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Sally Palmer says:

    While on one hand most people will be horrified by these cockfighters, it is frightening that there are some who will want to emulate them, or at the very least see it as an easy way to make a lot if money. Thank God The HSUS is bringing our attention to this so we can remember to keep educating people that not only is cock fighting cruel but it also signals other violent behaviors. I would like to see HBO have a special on the suffering of the animals and the heroism of the people who seek to end it so that children are not raised to think it’s ok.

    • Bill says:

      Educate yourself on the history of Cockfighting and you will understand the type of people who believe this sport needs to remain. Several great leaders of this Country participated in the sport.The so called “rescuers” of HSUS only kill the fowl. They do not understand the proud nature of the American Gamefowl.

      • Phaedra says:

        Sounds like a tradition such as slavery, footbinding,torture,dog eating,head hunting, women not voting,child brides… some things are better left in the good old days.

    • Alberto medina says:

      Now u tell me that mma fighters that break their noses..arms ..heads…legs
      Its not a bloody sport…ahhh…where u let boxers..but right they leave profit to gov. Its legal…so u guys have a double measure ????

  2. heather tisdale says:

    what a horrid sickening disgusting exebition of in humans who don’t give a dam about any of these poor birds, these disgusting nasty bad ass in humans are nasty vermin thinking only of their pockets & having poor birds tied up I would like to see these in humans in a fight doing the same thing till one is killed how can they think of this as money ? its torture its cruelty its meaning less & not necessary. These discriminate bird abusers need to be put in jail & that one that’s teaching others how to avoid the law & consequences needs to be put away for life . In this film they are not arresting but taking away the birds & saying they are going to die, but if you arrest these who do this, surely it would teach more of them to up hold the law & not do this to birds, or it could go underground?.

  3. Donald says:

    Just stop!!! If you dont like it dont do it.. Just because you dont like it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be able to do it.. That is the same as me liking it and making you watch.. I will not make you go in and you dont tell me I can’t. It is my right to do this if I want to and you shouldn’t be able to make laws telling me I can’t this is the USA.. We all have rights not just you

  4. Mike Spiegel says:

    The main point I saw in this Real Sports broadcast is the FACT that the HSUS euthanize these majestic fowl once they take them from the owner.This is also true about 90-95% of all other animals they confiscate.Seems there is no profit in keeping animals as they claim.
    Check the facts people.This group isn’t into saving animals,they are into money.Practially every dime they receive goes to salaries and paying off government Officals to make laws that put more value on an animals life than that of human.Less than 5% of their “Charitable”contributions goes to the care and upkeep of animals.
    Ask them how much they have paid in fines,and settlements in the past few years.
    Their tax exempt status should be stripped from them as they are just another big business with huge profits bilking the public by tugging at your heartstrings.They tug there because they know it’s the fastest way to your wallet!

    • Robin Peterson says:

      I’d like to see proof of your allegations that only 5% of the money donated goes to the care of animals. Show me a financial statement, post a link, I’d love to read it. HSUS does lobby in D.C. but that’s the way it is. Name one politician that does not accept money from special interest groups. At least the HSUS money is being used to enact laws to protect animals, unlike the money insurance companies give politicians to hike premiums.

  5. Cody lafferty says:

    you’ll never stop cock fighting. Stop waisting your time! Why on Earth would you worry about a chicken, when there are starving children in the world. Humane trafficking is at an all time high, but let’s worry about gays being able to marry one another or make sure pedophiles are being treated humanely in prison. You are the sickness needing cut iut of this country. Not the man with the chicken.

  6. Zack says:

    I don’t participate in the sport anymore but I have been to them, and I can tell you there isn’t drug dealing or prostitution going on yeah it’s gambling but if you go to a casino then your also gambling, and I can personally say the birds are not train to be like that that’s there nature what’s cruel is letting them fight with there natural natural spurs. I’m just saying look at the Philippines they bring in millions off of the sport a year. My question is that how is it cruel to let them do what they naturally do, the only difference is they put stuff on them so it doesn’t last as long. We send our troops with guns, because we don’t want them to fight with just there fists. It’s the same thing on what they do with there chickens. Like I said I’m not a participant of the sport but I mean don’t this country have better things to worry about, like abortion, I mean you can kill an animal and get 2 years in jail but if you kill an innocent baby you walk away free now tell me what’s wrong with that?

  7. Franklin says:

    SPECIAL RIGHTS !!?? How about equal rights? Hunting, fishing, trapping, falconry, slaughter houses………..ALL to satisfy some desires of mankind at the expense of the animals, fish & fowl. Cocking is the only one where both participants are equally matched and equally willing to participate. If it were cruel (unwanted by the roosters) they wouldn’t fight. We all avoid what we don’t want. You CAN NOT make a rooster fight. God put the fight in them; go argue and get sanctimonious with God. God has set up a pretty rough and tumble world and yet those of your ilk set yourselves above God and our Constitution. Your opinion doesn’t trump my rights. The SCOTUS has found that moral disapproval doesn’t give anyone or group the right to over-ride the civil rights of others. There have been lengthy studies done on cockers and it found them to be normal, mainstream Americans and that cocking was certainly not a pathogen to any anti-social or dangerous tendencies.

  8. Joshua L Cortez says:

    You have never been around game fowl and you have never raised game fowl. That I can garuntee. You tell folk that you know what’s best for animals. You do. It know the capability of these animals, nor do you care to learn. You are what drives our constitutional rights to the ground. You are the problem. You are the issue. You make this fight worth fighting. You have no clue what it takes.

  9. Dale says:

    Why should it bother me if someone away from my eyes LETS roosters fight.

    This is about control of humans by other humans. It is not about cruelty to animals. In my county when law enforcement raided a cock fight they zip ties the roosters legs and threw them in a barrel. They that did not soffocate were burned to death after being doused with gasoline

    If a man raises a crop why can’t he harvest it how wishes?

    By the way I have never fought roosters but do admire the gamecock. They are so beautiful and so courageous ‘

  10. Tressa says:

    Wayne must be a vegetarian, too. How about putting your energy and efforts into a more worth while cause like housing and feeding the homeless, ending human trafficking, winning the the war on drugs, etc.
    This is really seems to be wasted time, energy and money spent on “Game Birds”. Seriously there are more important issues in our world to “fight against”.

  11. Conrad dayton says:

    You people are incompetent. This sort has been around before people like you even existed. There are checks and balances in our society today. God gave man dominion over all animals and the founding fathers of this country fought game birds. Abraham Lincoln was approached on the White House lawn one day by an irate woman who detested his derby. He said “lady who am I to deprive the lowly chicken a fight against foe, as humans wage war in each other on a daily basis.”

  12. Conrad dayton says:

    It’s is with out a doubt a tradition that dates thousands of years back in several different cultures and ethnicities across the world. Nobody beats or harms these animals. They are not mistreated beaten or physically abused by any man. There isn’t any difference in MMA fighting than game fowl. Someone could die!!! If people would mind their own business the world would be a better place.

  13. Richard Terry says:

    This person John Thompson, deputy executive director of the National Sheriffs’ Association, seems to be upset by what he saw on television where people stated that they did not agree with cockfighting laws yet I see no mention of all of the people that continually are flaunting the fact that are breaking the immigration laws and encouraging others to do the same and this is shown on almost a daily basis. He states that all laws must be enforced yet sheriffs across the country continually state that is not their job to enforce immigration laws. Does he and his organization think that they have the ability to pick and chose the laws that they have to enforce. Unlike illegal immigration that cost this country and its taxpayers billions of dollars a year because the laws are not enforced cockfighting if left alone cost this country or its taxpayers nothing. The only thing that cockfighting laws actually do is make many normally law abiding citizens into “criminals” by putting animal “rights” OVER THE RIGHTS OF A HUMAN BEING! Cockfighting is generally of no harm to any human and especially if they choose not to participate or watch. Is it not a persons right to choose?

  14. Nelson says:

    I think cockfighting should be leaglized an taxed. Gamefowl is not a animal it is a fowl. But you people think its ok to watch two people get a ring an fight till one or the other is unable to continue or the referee stop the match. Well cockfighting is no different so why not stop mma an boxing if you want to stop cockfighting.

  15. Nick says:

    Well for one thing everyone needs to mind there own business and not put there nose where it don’t belong and worry about there self’s that’d what I think

  16. Gavin says:

    I thank if u enjoy that type of stuff then u should have a right to do it it’s called freedom that we as humans have in the United States an beside that there no other purpose for the breed of a game cock that’s what there breed to do sénce the time of the Indian I myself strongley support the game cock fights

  17. alfred owen says:

    Cock fighting is a tradation and i do not need you input on that,Pot growing and smoking is against federal law also and you see it growing.
    Why not just enjoy your life with out hurting others.Any one against cocking fighting has no clue of the History of the sport.There have been cocks fought on the White House lawn by Presidents./.It is special interest groups that have destroyed this great nation.Let people feed there familys as they wish to do.I want to see peddeling bikes took of state roads to how do i go about stopping them lol Press the gas and go over board.Leave people alone worry about yourself.

  18. alfred owen says:

    Learn the history of the gamecock.The gamecock has been on the White House lawn.Gamecocks have been owned by Presidents.I have never seen HSUS relocate the gamecock when it raided a farm no but they will kill them all at one time.How stupid is that?You take a wild bird and take it away from daily care and kill it.Smoking pot is against federal law also why not kill that one

  19. alfred owen says:

    I raise and sell fowl it is my living .you have no right to take food out of my family’s mouth

  20. Zach English says:

    If y’all was to so called RESCUE these roosters (fowl not animals, livestock not pets) from the owners just exactly what will be done with the roosters you are rescuing?

    Are they giving a better life with better benefits or not
    I can answer this for you NO THEY ARE EUTHANIZED
    Just out right killed for being exactly what they are
    This is exactly what type of cruelty that should not be tolerated and you should be punished to the highest extent of the law!!!

  21. Noone says:

    They humanely kill the fowl.. They’re murders just like cock fighters. The end result is death either way. Let the roosters decide who lives and dies not the SPCA who does nothing but murder animals

  22. klaus von Schwanebach says:

    Wayne thanks for your great writings but what are we doing about this video?

    and in America, Congress approves shooting Grizzlies and Wolf pubs in their dens??
    what kind of ethics and moral stature do we have here?

  23. Sonny's Mom says:

    One month after this blog entry was originally posted, a big cockfighting arrest has just taken place in Detroit. Progressives may be unhappy to learn who was in attendance.

    Plenty of angry-sounding good ol’ boys posting comments here, but please don’t associate traditional values conservatives with blood sports. Animal abuse is one of those “hands across the aisle” issues we should all draw the line on.

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