Commentary: Cockfighting is uncivilized and barbaric. Tennessee shouldn’t tolerate it.

February 26, 2021 3:59 am
(Photo: Getty Images)

Fighting cocks, not necessarily in Cocke County. (Photo: Getty Images)

The origin of cockfighting dates back thousands of years, but it was during Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage to the Philippines in 1521 that modern cockfighting was first documented by his chronicler, Antonio Pigafetta, in the kingdom of Taytay. It’s a grisly and still-rampant blood sport, unnervingly present in the Volunteer State.

Most states banned cockfighting in the 19th century, and in the 21st century, Congress has made cockfighting a felony and banned it everywhere in the U.S.  That federal legislative effort started in earnest in 2002 and it’s now a crime to fight animals in every part of the U.S. It’s also a crime to train birds for fighting, ship them across state, territorial or national lines, to traffic in the fighting weapons cockfighters attach to the birds’ legs, or to attend a fight or bring a minor to one.

Most recently a provision that outlawed cockfighting in the U.S. Territories was signed into law in the 2018 Farm Bill. We worked hard to secure the latest provision – banning animal fighting in the U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico and Guam – and it won bipartisan support from Reps. Scott DesJarlais, R-Jasper, Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, Chuck Fleischman, R- Ooltewah, Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, and then-Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood, who cast an ‘AYE’ vote to pass it.

Cockfighting is a felony across the U.S., but Tennessee cockfighters remain involved in global trade.

We followed up on the new law by conducting an investigation of live-animal shipping records to Guam.  We found records for 9,000 birds shipped to Guam from the states, and it was plain that these transports were animals bound for Guam’s fighting pits. Our investigation revealed that Tennessee cockfighters are deeply involved in the global trade of fighting animals.  Little has been done by local or federal authorities to stop this disregard for the law.

Since then, we’ve conducted more eye-opening investigations, the most recent in North Carolina last month. In recent weeks, 300 game cockswere seized in Las Vegas, Nevada; 70 more confiscated in Los Angeles, County, California; 8 cockfighters arrested in Chickamauga, Georgia; and two scofflaws convicted on cockfighting charges in Northern Nevada last week. And we’re now offering a $5,000 reward to Tennesseans for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of cockfighting charges on the state or federal level.

Animal fighting is animal abuse – plain and simple. The illegal gambling adds to lawlessness. Bringing children to the fights, using, or distributing drugs, and engaging in other illegal activities should make the whole enterprise a hot target for the U.S. Dept. of Justice (DOJ), and for state and local law enforcement. It’s not only brutal and appalling but, it’s a health and human safety threat, given the role of cockfighting in spreading Newcastle disease, and Avian influenza – something everyone should be mindful of amidst the current pandemic. It’s clear that COVID-19 most likely jumped the species barrier from animal to mankind in a live-wildlife market in Wuhan, China – and the conditions surrounding cockfighting aren’t that different with cockfighters often sucking the blood out of roosters’ lungs themselves in mouth-to-mouth resuscitation-like contact so the gamecocks can continue to fight to the death – blood and feathers flying all around.

Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)
Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)

But there is hope with the Animal Cruelty Enforcement (ACE) Act that will soon be reintroduced in the 117th Congress. The bill would create and Animal Cruelty Crimes Unit at DOJ to better enforce federal anti-cockfighting and cruelty laws. And State Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, has announced he plans to introduce a bill to upgrade the Volunteer State’s anemic anti-cockfighting law.

Opposing animal cruelty is a non-partisan issue, and we call on state lawmakers to back Lundberg’s legislation, and for federal lawmakers to back the ACE Act in Congress. 

This isn’t Ancient Rome – it’s 2021. No civilized society should tolerate this form of staged cruelty.

What to do:

Anyone with information about illegal cockfighting activities can send information to Residents can also contact the appropriate U.S. attorneys, the state attorney general, or county sheriffs or district attorneys.

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Marty Irby
Marty Irby

Marty Irby is the executive director at Animal Wellness Action in Washington, D.C., and an eight-time World Champion equestrian who was named as one of The Hill's Top Lobbyists for 2019 and 2020, and was recently honored by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, II for his work to protect horses. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @MartyIrby.