Richard Hyatt: This chicken is not for dinner

February 24, 2012 

There’s nothing like the spectacle of a good chicken fight to make your dinner digest.

We’ve been getting a lot of that during the 6 o’clock news hour as preachers and animal rights groups lobby to put more teeth in Alabama’s cockfighting law.

Right now, it isn’t a felony to fight roosters in Alabama and if you’re caught promoting a cockfight the fine is only $50. Cockfighting became illegal in all 50 states when Louisiana passed a ban in 2007. It’s a felony in 33 states, and in 42 states it’s a crime to be a spectator at an event where roosters go beak to beak.

The political ads on local stations are pretty graphic. If you’re having fried chicken for dinner you’ll want to slide your plate away.

These spots label cockfighting “a pornography of violence.” An official of the Southern Baptist Convention speaks those words. The Humane Society of the United States funds the ads.

This isn’t the first time lawmakers have tried to strengthen Alabama’s cockfighting law. Though support for the move is passionate, the sport is still popular in some parts of the state. A Facebook poll taken by an Alabama TV station showed 88 percent of the responders did not think tougher penalties are warranted.

Cockfighting is not a new phenomenon. Shakespeare wrote about it. Bob Dylan sang about it. In some countries, it has more fans than so-called mainstream sports.

Several years back I went to a well-organized fight in north Mississippi, near Ripley. The pit was deep in the woods and uniformed deputies helped spectators find parking places.

Children were everywhere and near the pit there were tailgaters. If you didn’t pack dinner, a concession stand sold hot dogs and hamburgers, but be prepared to stand in line.

The crowd was peaceful until the fights began. With wings fluttering and feet flying, the roosters on the floor of the pit put on a show. Then it was quiet and then it was over. Only one bird survived unscathed.

Spectators were pumped. They cheered and they wagered, betting heavily on their favorite rooster. Women and children were not excluded.

Was it humane? Certainly not. Was it an event I wouldn’t forget? Yes it was. I could not believe the fervor. I expected a preacher to appear with an offering plate.

Authorities shut down this pit in Tippah County last year. Photographs online show the results of the raid. I wonder if any of the deputies that helped me park my car were part of the action.

That experience was on my mind when I saw the ads on TV. It’s difficult to conjure up support for rooster fighting, but in a state where so many people can’t read and write and where flipping burgers is sometimes a career, I wonder why we see campaigns against cockfighting instead of ones supporting education.

Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. He is also found at www.richardhyattcolumbus.com

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