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Election day chicken fight

Cockfighting is a hotly contested issue in Oklahoma this year.
Cockfighting is a hotly contested issue in Oklahoma this year.

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CNN's Candy Crowley reports on the political battle over a bloodsport initiative on the ballot on Oklahoma (October 29)
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OKLAHOMA CITY (CNN) -- Among the 202 statewide ballot measures to be decided this November is whether to outlaw cockfighting in Oklahoma.

Supporters of a proposed ban on cockfighting say putting razor-sharp spurs or knives on birds and forcing them to fight is wrong.

"The issue is human cruelty. The purpose in slashing these birds to death in front of these crowds is for the gambling and entertainment of people," said Janet Halliburton of Oklahoma Coalition Against Cockfighting.

Cockfight supporters have their view of putting two roosters in a ring for blood sport.

"I enjoy the competition of it. Just to be honest with you. There's a competition. Maybe it's a man thing, I don't know. I enjoy raising the fowl, making sure I have a healthy fowl, making the best of the breed is what it amounts to," said Devin Smith of Oklahomans for Freedom of Choice.

If Oklahoma voters pass State Question 687, it would become a felony to hold cockfights or to own birds or equipment for the purpose of cockfighting.

The measure also would make it a misdemeanor to knowingly be a spectator of cockfighting.

Cockfighting is legal Louisiana and New Mexico, where attempts to ban it have died in the legislature. Oklahoma is taking the decision directly to the voters.

A TV ad from the Oklahoma Coalition Against Cockfighting claims that the fighting fowl have sharp blades strapped to their legs to slash each other apart.
A TV ad from the Oklahoma Coalition Against Cockfighting claims that the fighting fowl have sharp blades strapped to their legs to slash each other apart.

Cockfighting has been legal in the Sooner State since the 1960s when a judge ruled that fowl were not covered by animal cruelty laws because chickens are not animals.

Animal rights activists have been crying fowl ever since.

"These cockfighters involve their children in the cockfights. So the children see these animals being slashed to death for gambling purposes and they see that it's okay to have fun by slashing animals to death," said Halliburton.

"It desensitizes these people at an early age to pain and suffering. And this desensitization makes it more likely that there is going to be human violence at some other stage," she said.

But Smith said that in Oklahoma most roosters don't die in fights. The husband, father, radio ad salesman, gamecock breeder and cockfighter said he uses tiny, leather boxing gloves on his birds.

"As you can see neither rooster is injured after all. That was 11 felonies and two misdemeanors under 687 for you, 16 felonies and two misdemeanors for me," he said after putting two of his birds together and watching them face off.

Devin Smith says that most of the roosters, like the one he's holding, aren't injured in the fights, and that he fits his chickens with boxing gloves (inset).
Devin Smith says that most of the roosters, like the one he's holding, aren't injured in the fights, and that he fits his chickens with boxing gloves (inset).

The battle over Question 687 has taken to the airwaves, with both sides running television ads to convince people theirs is the right side.

Even politicians are picking sides, with gubernatorial candidates Democratic state Sen. Brad Henry and independent Gary Richardson opposing the ban on cockfighting. So does former Gov. David Walters who said it would hurt poor rural communities.

"Some of these people are dead-dog poor and I have a hard time telling them we're going to take your livelihood away," he told The Associated Press.

Smith agrees, describing a rural community of people who love game fowl and pump $100 million into the state economy ..

Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Largent favors the ban on cockfighting, as does outgoing Gov. Frank Keating.

Halliburton points to cockfighting as an Oklahoma embarassment -- an underworld of gambling and criminals supported by a bloodsport:

"They have this blade that slashes through the rooster, pokes out eyes, punctures lungs and slashes into vital arteries. Blood spurts and the animals die in the ring based on blood loss. Whichever one gets hacked to death is the loser," said Halliburton.

She has been campaigning to ban cockfighting for years and she senses victory.

But Smith sees see State Question 687 as an overwritten first step by out-of-state liberals to take away his freedoms and change Oklahoma culture.

"You know what the animal rights people do? They put pictures of slaughtered animals in our children's Happy Meals. That's what they do. They go to research facilities and set the mice lose where they're doing research for AIDS, Alzheimer's, cancer," Smith said.

The television ads backing his views tell sportsmen to wake up because, they say, California radicals are going to try to outlaw fishing, hunting and rodeos next.

"The animal rights activist support is slipping away like a California mudslide, as I like to say," Smith said.

-- CNN Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley contributed to this report.



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