Cockfighting in Puerto Rico

Back in February, I attended a wedding in Puerto Rico. Staying at a hotel in Carolina, I found myself a few blocks away from Club Gallistico de Puerto Rico, one of the larger cockfighting arenas on the island. Not one to pass up the opportunity to experience a local sporting event (I’ve witnessed street kids in Barcelona playing baseball and joined a pickup cricket game in India), I rallied some daring souls to join me.

It is worth mentioning that cockfighting is legal in Puerto Rico. Louisiana was the last U.S. state to allow the blood sport but its ban took effect in August 2008. For a more detailed analysis of the legalities of cockfighting, you can check this out.

Now, legality and morality are two very different things. As my group of cockfighting novices approached the arena, one of us noted that his biggest fear was that he would enjoy it. For $10 (women can attend for free), we gained general admission and took our seats. What followed was exciting, terrifying and confusing.

The roosters are “armed” with a cockspur, which acts as a knife attached to their feet. They are purposely agitated by men whose job responsibility appears to be solely bird agitation. The roosters kick and peck at each other. Feathers and blood fly. Members of the crowd make bets with one another and cheer vigorously for their favorite rooster to make them money. Scantily clad waitresses serve $3 beers and chicken wings (yes, the irony is thick at Club Gallistico de Puerto Rico). Eventually, the match is stopped when one bird succumbs. Which is a nice way of saying that it stops fighting. Usually because it has stopped living.

I wish I could say that I walked out in disgust. That I wrote a letter to my congressman imploring him to ban cockfighting in the remaining U.S. territories that allow it (the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam being the others). But I had fun. Maybe I’m desensitized to violence. Maybe I was just caught up in the adrenaline of being on vacation and experiencing something new. But I found myself cheering, making bets and generally blending in with the regulars in attendance.

I didn’t flinch when the roosters were lowered from the ceiling with much of the same pomp and circumstance reserved for a Rocky movie. I didn’t blink when a staff member cleared the ring of stray feather by using a dust buster. And I didn’t look away when blood began to appear on the outer ring of the fighting area. It will surely make animal rights activists and animal lovers cringe to read those words. I suppose I should feel more remorseful as I do consider myself a fairly progressive thinker. But the fact remains that I enjoyed myself.

Would I go back? Well, I was in Puerto Rico again last week and had plans to attend the fights but got back from Culebra too late and the arena had closed. When I do have a chance to return to Club Gallistico de Puerto Rico (or any other locale that hosts such events), I’d like to speak to more of the people involved. I’d be interested to speak to the men who raise and train the roosters. To learn why they do it and how deep the tradition is ingrained in the fabric of their culture. I’d like to speak to more of the patrons to learn their motivations for spending a beautiful Caribbean afternoon in a fluorescently lit modern day gladiator arena. And I’d like to see if I’d enjoy it again. Entertain me once and I can claim that is was the novelty factor. Entertain me twice and I may have some soul searching to do.