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Thursday, February 07, 2008
Is there a difference between Cockfighting and Dogfighting? (or Bullfighting?)

A video apparently uploaded to Youtube - but now gone from the site - shows Pedro Martinez and Juan Marichal participating in a cockfight in the Dominican Republic (where cockfighting is legal). According to ESPN:
Martinez and Marichal laugh before releasing the roosters. The two took part as honorary "soltadores," the word used to describe the person who puts the animal to fight.

The animal released by Martinez appears to be killed on the video, which was posted Tuesday. The fight takes place in the Coliseo de Gallos (Rooster Coliseum) in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic's biggest cockfighting venue.
I wonder if Michael Vick is looking up at a TV somewhere behind prison walls pondering whether Martinez will face any discipline from Major League Baseball. There are obvious differences between running and funding an illegal dogfighting operation in the U.S. (which Vick has admitted), and simply attending a legal cockfight (and releasing roosters into the ring) while abroad. But leaving those differences aside, is there any substantive difference between fighting roosters and fighting dogs?

There isn't a major difference between the legal status of dogfighting and cockfighting. Dogfighting is illegal in every state. Cockfighting is illegal in every state (now that Louisiana and New Mexico have banned the activity); moreover, transporting cockfighting-related equipment across state lines is now a federal offense. Although cockfighters claim their sport is "humane", that seems somewhat unconvincing.

Does the fact that cockfighting is popular among particular ethnic, cultural and national groups make it okay? Recall that the same argument was made by none other than Whoopi Goldberg about the place of dogfighting in southern culture. It didn't convince many.

Is it enough that roosters are not domesticated animals kept as pets, but consumed for food? In some other countries, of course, roosters are kept as pets and dogs are eaten (According to Slate, "The South Korean dog meat industry reportedly involves about 1 million dogs, 6,000 restaurants, and 10 percent of the population.").

Is it that dogs are smarter than roosters? There's actually a bit of disagreement on whether that is the case. Research has supposedly documented a fair amount of learning and even "culture" among chickens. One of the problems with "ranking" animals according to intelligence is that intelligence isn't a trait that is easily measured with precision and may vary depending on what kind of activity in which the animal is involved. Dogs may have a better sense of morality than roosters, but roosters might be better at recognizing pictures and more likely to dream. And exactly how dumb does an animal have to be before we no longer condemn having them fight one another?

Both of these activities involve killing and maiming animals for entertainment purposes. And unlike a sport like horseracing or even football, which may impose upon "athletes" devastating if not abusive injuries, death in both cockfighting and dogfighting is not incidental but quite intentional.

For anyone interested in a strange journey into the world of Southern cockfighting, I'd recommend Charles Willeford's novel Cockfighter.


But cockfighting *is* legal where they were doing it--not just culturally accepted, but within the law. Maybe this is too formalistic a view, but that should count for something.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 2/07/2008 3:19 PM  

Also, dogs are furrier and cuter than cocks or bulls, you forgot that one...

Blogger Frank!!! -- 2/07/2008 4:21 PM  

Is there a difference between cockfighting and dog fighting?

In the US? No.

If Martinez and Marichal were organizing cockfights in New York and Vick were merely attending and wagering on dog fights in most of Russia, we would tut-tut Vick while watching Martinez and Marichal get ready for prison.

We would be upset if a celebrity were caught driving 120 mph down the interstate but on most of the autobahn, no big deal.

Obviously not all actions in other nations are outside the reach of US law. It is illegal for a US citizen to purchase Cuban cigars or rum in a third country even if consumed in the other country.

Blogger Mark -- 2/07/2008 11:43 PM  

I posed this exact question to my students at Seton Hall back in December to consider purely from a moral point of view. After a two hour debate, we couldn't come up with anything more reasonable than Frank's conclusion.

However, considering the following: (1) bullfighting is legal in much of the world; (2)cockfighting is legal in much of the world; (3) allowing the shooting of deer with a shotgun purely for sport is legal in the U.S.; and (4) putting down healthy and innocent dogs without homes is legal in the U.S., I come to the following conclusion. It really does not make sense for Mr. Vick to be serving jail time, especially when murders, rapists and other violent criminals are regularly paroled early.

I'm not defending Michael Vick's behavior. But given 1,2,3, and 4 above, I really don't think Mr. Vick's punishment fit his crime, as least in view of society's broader protection (or lack thereof) for animals.

Blogger Marc Edelman -- 2/08/2008 2:05 AM  


Excellent point when you said: "it really does not make sense" for Vick to be serving jail time (and I would add, let alone for 23 months). This of course assumes that his punishment is more severe than others in society would, and do, receive for that crime. As a side note, somebody in the Jacksonville area was arrested last week for dog fighting, and the evidence seized is about the same (or possibly more damaging) than Vick's. It will be interesting to see what sentence, if any, he receives.

It's not about logic anymore when it pertains to the conduct of professional athletes and the different standard that applies to them in society. What's most concerning to me is that we (i.e. society in general, and in particular the media, judges, Congress and prosecutors) seem to be willing to sacrifice the personal liberties, freedoms and privacy rights of professional athletes, including their Constitutional rights, at any and all cost, with justifications such as "because they are role models" or "because it affects the integrity of the game" or "because they are already handsomely compensated".

In light of what I just said, and because I am sticking up for the rights of athletes, of course I now have to give the proverbial line (like you had to in your comment): "Let me make clear that I don't condone dog fighting, taking illegal steroids, hanging out with strippers, etc." But why should we have to say that? Doesn't that go without saying?

The "integrity of the game" is a standard for league commissioners to take some course of action against players (subject to any limitations in the CBA). That rationale, as well as "role model status" and "handsomely compensated," is completely irrelevant when it pertains to criminal and civil law standards. But what's happening is that those standards are being used to justify (or support) decisions being made in the legal arena, for example, with respect to Fourth Amendment rights, sentencing decisions, tort claims, Congressional investigations, etc.

I don't even know what integrity of the game means anymore. It seems to have evolved into a broad concept of "conduct that we don't approve of" or possibly "conduct that hurts the game's image". I used to think that it pertained to issues like players being paid off to tank the game, or players gambling in their sport, essentially because the outcome of the game has already been decided before it has even been played. This may sound counterintuitive, but why does steroid use (assuming it enhances performance) even meet the "integrity of the game" standard? Presumably it's because a player is doing something to his body that allows him to play better (not worse) to help his team win. If that is the reason (which I question), then it necessarily must also include things that we KNOW enhance performance (like tommy john surgery, lasik, healthy diet, a good night's rest, superior equipment, etc.) And once again, by even posing the question, I feel compelled to say: Now, this doesn't mean that I condone the use of steroids.

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 2/08/2008 8:35 AM  

There is a disturbing lack of logic in our differing treatments of differing animals. I generally think we're always on shaky ground when we try to rationalize differences between dogs, cows, chickens, deer or any other animal. Some animals people eat. Some animals people kill for fun. Some animals people love and play with. Some animals get trained to be entertainment. But at a moral level, what is the difference between these animals?

I do see a moral difference between "attending" an animal-torture sport and "organizing and financing" an animal-torture sport. But between chickens and dogs? There may be a difference, but not such a fundamental difference to make torturing chickens acceptable but torturing dogs reprehensible.

I might add that even if we could "rank" the intelligence of animals, that wouldn't be justification for differing treatment. Aquinas argued that because animals don't have reason, there's no sin in treating them badly; I'm not sure he addressed how to treat humans who lack reason (like children, senile seniors, mentally challenged people, etc.). I'm not sure "stupid" animals should be considered less worthy than "smart" animals, even if we could precisely define the stupid and the smart.

Blogger Pacifist Viking -- 2/08/2008 11:46 AM  

The last two comments inspire little more than HUH from me.

Slavery is still legal in parts of the world.
Prostitution is legal in parts of the world (including small parts of the US) and some even permit children to be involved.
Some drugs illegal in the US are legal elsewhere.

If the "it's legal somewhere else" standard determines who goes to jail we can certainly end overcrowding in prisons.

Let's not forget that blood sports are illegal for two reasons. The first is animal cruelty but it is quite logical to assume that many who have voted to make it criminal have done so because of opposition to the wagering that goes along with it.

Vick's problem is basically that he elected to engage in this activity in a sovereign state where it is illegal. He could have operated in any number of nations where it was legal and elected not to.

Let's be realistic. Vick isn't the first person to get a harsh sentence for the crime.

He lost a potential reduction in sentence by failing to accept responsibility and certainly didn't help his cause with a failed drug test. He got enhancements because he was deemed the head of that criminal enterprise.

Blogger Mark -- 2/08/2008 11:50 AM  

Ummm, would it matter (at all) if HGH or 'roids were given to the dogs or roosters? [just kidding].

Anonymous Anonymous -- 2/08/2008 12:25 PM  

I'm clearly not an expert on this topic, but I did go to a cockfight a couple of years ago while traveling in Nicaragua. Being curious (and slightly horrified) I ended up asking one of the "trainers" about the "sport" and what life was like for one of the fighting roosters. From what I understood (my Spanish isn't that good), the roosters lead a charmed life up until their death (think Kobe beef). Roosters are only trained for endurance, as aggression "comes naturally." This may be a false distinction, but I think there are material differences in the lives of these roosters and the pit bulls found on Vick's property. From what I gather, those dogs where kept in cages and routinely abused in order to condition them and toughen them up.

In my mind, it makes a difference.

Anonymous mattyacc -- 2/09/2008 2:43 AM  

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