That Old Blood SportBy: Marcelo Báez
Last Thursday night, while sitting on some rickety bleachers along with a large group of boisterous men, I couldn’t look away from my shoes. Besides being relatively new – I had bought them in NoHo two days before – there was nothing special about my footwear. On them, however, I saw something I hadn’t seen in over ten years: a thin layer of red dirt. It was no ordinary dirt, mind you; the dark-hued soil made it seem like my shoes had been dipped in chili powder.
“I’m definitely in the highlands of Jalisco,” I said to myself.
To be more specific, I was in my old stomping grounds, and in the middle of a cockfight. But a rooster’s crow suddenly interrupted my geographical epiphany. To my immediate right, a beautiful bird – or gamecock, to use the parlance of the blood sport – was pacing inside a cage. The color of his plumage, colloquially referred to as “colorado” (red), perfectly matched the hue of my shoes. Sadly, that crow, the one that had caught my attention, would be his last. A few minutes later it was his turn to take on an adversary, a bulkier “giro” (yellow), in the makeshift cockpit.
Are cockfights insensitive, cruel, inhumane? Of course they are. Since most of my older male relatives, including my father, have been enthusiasts since before I was born, I could claim that my proximity to the ancient sport made me callous. But that would be a lie.
After witnessing my first cockfight before I was a teenager, I clearly remember asking my father if “roosters felt no pain” when their flesh “was cut.” Attempting to divert my concerns, an older man chimed in: “All that matters is that they don’t run.” (Later I would learn that the gamecocks do, indeed, feel pain, but that they don’t run away because they have been selectively bred in order to exacerbate their natural territorial instinct, and that the aggression they develop in the presence of another male completely overpowers any sense of survival, keeping them engaged in the fight.)
The man, a friend of the family, went on to tell me that it was considered shameful for a gamecock to run away from its adversary (an indication of an “inferior pedigree”), and that owners killed the “cowards” immediately after a match. My father nodded, approving the older man’s lecture, but it didn’t sit right with me. Even at a young age, I felt it was senseless to enable and facilitate the slaughter of an animal just for entertainment.
The knives tied to a gamecock’s leg are meant to substitute their natural, blunt spur with a lethal, razor-sharp blade. Last Thursday, the yellow-feathered gamecock made short work of his adversary, the colorado, with one of those blades. While the giro remained unscathed, the red fowl had been mortally lacerated in seconds. Hemorrhaging blood, the colorado’s carcass was tossed outside the cockpit like a discarded box.
As a kid, I’d seen the same thing happen hundreds of times and, after a while, I stopped giving it much thought. (I guess I did become somewhat callous after all.) But now, after years of being away from “palenques” (cockpits), watching an animal die – especially for such cheap thrills – made my stomach turn.
For a second I forgot that my father was standing near me. Quickly glancing at him made me feel a conflicting nostalgia. Looking away, I noticed that the colorado’s mangled body had been pushed against a nearby wall. I stood up, walked over to him, took a consciously-morbid photo, and, because roosters don’t normally crow at night, I promised to remember him as talker, not a fighter. Then, attempting to dust off all the excess dirt, I clicked my shoes together, and left.