Sociological Approach on Cockfighting by a University Student: First Research Material (Written By Two University Professors)


HBJ is writing a research for one of his University course class. The research is still going on and below is one of the materials he might be using as a reference.

– Gameness til the End


While a great deal has been surmised about cock breeding and cock fighting, most of this has been conjectural or observational and has tended to emphasize the gambling and sensational aspects of a type of behavior that has ancient roots, going back at least 1000 before Christ and followed in almost every known culture. The practice of the selective breeding of game fowl over innumerable centuries has produced a product totally different from the ordinary barnyard poultry.

The American variant of this behavior pattern was imported early in our Colonial period from England, and records clearly indicate that it was followed by most of the landed gentry. George Washington, Jefferson, Madison and others bred gamecocks as a matter of course. Still later, there is clear evidence that Stonewall Jackson bred such cocks, preferring, as a matter of fact, a strain he called his “Black Tormentors.” Although there is no empirical proof of the matter, Abraham Lincoln, while in Illinois, is supposed to have supplemented his meager law income by being a referee at cockfights.

Solon, the great lawgiver, some 120 A.D., has written a very expressive defense, or rather exhortation to engage in cockfighting as a moral exercise, presenting ideas held by Alexander the Great and other Greeks earlier.

Students interested in the historical background of the sport can find any number of excellent historical documents and books outlining this aspect of the sport.

The object of the National Cocker Survey, as it is known, was to see who, in what number, and of what disposition, are followers of this behavior in the United States today. Through the assistance of one of the national magazines devoted to the development of this activity, Professors William C. Capel of Clemson University and Professor Clifton Bryant, of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, were able to conduct a national mail survey of a selected random sample of 1000 cockers, of whom over 500 responded fully. This supplemented individual interviews and investigations and led to a number of conclusions. The survey was not limited to merely assessing the demographic data on these people, but in assessing their psychological profiles, and any differences in actions, feelings, or motivations that would separate this group from other Americans. In particular, the surveyors wanted to see if people en­gaged 1n this activity were more sadistic, more prone to compulsive gambling, more violet or aggressive, or in any other way socially pathological.

In summary of the above later point, it can be stated that NO PATHOLOGIES have been exhibited. Devotees of cocking show NO psychological abnormalities, at least on the measures used. Their prime variation from the norm for other Americans on all these points seems to be their interest in gamecocks, extending from breeding to matching these birds in combat.

What follows in this report, is a brief summary of some of the salient findings of this survey, which, so far as is known, is the ONLY effort to examine this activity on a national scale, in depth.

Cockfighting is a major American recreational activity which has a very sizable number of enthusiasts and participants. Cockfighting itself is misunder stood, If not, in large measure, unknown to the general public, and the general picture of the cocker himself is incomplete and sometimes distorted. The recent National Cocker Survey was designed to learn more about cockers and their involve ment 1n the sport, and thus to better complete that picture. The enthusiastic response to the survey was most gratifying, and approximately 53% of the indi viduals who received a questionnaire completed and returned it. The responses have been coded and tabulated and a complete report on the research is now in progress.


Nearly all the cockers responded to this question. Some four percent say they are not interested in the fighting aspects of the sport and never attend fights, while another four percent said they attended “very seldom”. By far the greater number, some 54% “a few times a month,” while 18% say they go “once or more weekly,” which translates into a lot of people seeing a lot of cockfights.

The next question showed that, of those who fight birds, that in contrast to the 18% who attend more than one a week only 7.5% fight birds that often, although a whopping 50% of all those who fight birds do so a few times a month. Some 25% fight only a few times a year. Cockfighting promotes sharing leisure time in other activities with individuals met through cocking in 51% of the cases.

A slightly higher percentage (62.1%) have occasion to visit or go out socially with other cockfighting enthusiasts and their friends, while an even higher percentage (67.7%) have “best friends” who are also involved in the sport.


Although a number of fictional books about cockfighting and one recent movie strongly Intimated that the be-all and end-all of cocking was betting, and that mains or hack fights were the predominant forms, the national survey indicated that things are quite a bit different. In the first place, it is not true that the majority of cockers who bet at all, and 83% say they do bet, do so “frequently.” Forty-nine per cent of all cockers say they bet frequently, and another 34% say they bet “occasionally.” It should be noted that only some 15% say they bet “seldom” or “never.” Additionally, the preferred type of fight attended 1s clearly the “derby” or “tournament” fight. Very few attend mains, probably because of their decline in general popularity.


When asked the twin questions “What is the thing about cockfighting that you think most people in it like?” and, “What is the major thing that you like about cockfighting?” there was close agreement. Some 19 reasons were presented in answer to these questions, but three clearly presented the vast major ity viewpoint. The leading thing most liked about cockfighting was “Competition, an answer that received 26.5% of the votes. A close second was “Thrills and excitement” an answer that received 23.5%, of the votes and “cock husbandry” which received 12.8%. “Money” came in a distant fourth, with 8.8% of the sample selecting this as their main reason for liking the sport. This same rating was given for both questions, as to what cockers think others would like best and what; they themselves liked best.

In defense of critics of the sport, who call it cruel, illicit or “deviant” cockers tend to concentrate in two areas. Thirty-one per cent thought the critics were uninformed and ignorant about the purpose and practice of cock-fighting, while the larger number, some 42.4%, lumped their defenses under what we called “general disagreement with critics.” Their reasons for defending cock-fighting were concentrated on the idea that “The Lord made gamebirds to fight, that cocking is no different and no more cruel than other sports, that cockers have a degree of honesty, dignity and pride unknown to many other sportsmen and so on.” The primary contention was on some variation of the general theme that cocks are born to fight, and exhibit such gameness that they provide inspiration in the game of life.

In response to the question, “It is said that some hobbies tend to change people and their personality. What has the gamecock sport done for or to you?” On this rather complex question there was a surprising degree of agreement that cocking has a definite “Therapeutic” value. Almost 45% endorsed this view, citing improved marital relations. Giving one goals to strive for, giving great personal satisfaction and sense of personal worth, new lease on life after retirement and the like. Less than one per cent said that it provided profits. In fact, on all questions involving money, cockers are in entire agreement that if it is money you’re looking for, then cocking is not for you.

Cockers are very much on the side of law and order, and respect for one’s fellowman. The happy go lucky attitude toward life in not for the cocker. He sees time as a precious commodity that is moving too fast. With the advent of the computer we are able to make millions of comparative analyses that were impossible a few years ago and would take 1,000 accountants a 1,000 years to do it, but the computer can do the entire procedure in a few minutes or less.

Now suppose we take the people who did agree with this and checked to see if they also bet compulsively and heavily, with a great deal of dependence on luck, then we would be justified in saying that such people are apt to be compul sive gamblers. Many people make just such assumptions about cockfighters … that they are big gamblers, often betting on superstition and luck … whereas our study shows that on this factor, which we have called “Fatalism”, that cockers are, for the most part, far different. And do not bet as often as one would think. And betting does not seem to be the driving force behind cockfighting.


The findings in this report give us the best general profile of the American cocker thus far assembled.

It is difficult, of course, to estimate the total number of persons who are engaged in some aspect or other of this form of behavior.

If we count persons whose participation has been limited to a very occasional visit to a Derby, it is possible, by extrapolation from circulation figures of the three principal magazines, plus observational studies to estimate that something over 100,000 are more or less actively engaged in some form or other of the activity. An estimate of some 40,000 might be more accurate for those who are extensively engaged in the behavior generally described as “cockfightlng.”

While generalizations may often be inaccurate, there ire a few salient features that have emerged. Cocking is basically a white (and Puerto Rican) activity in the United States, and is primarily a middle class activity viewed by the participants as “recreational” in nature, and while some gambling is usually closely associated with the behavior, this gambling is neither as intense nor on anything like the scale in which it accompanies other sports.

There are no serious psychological differences between those who en gage in this behavior and those who do not. Certainly there are NO signs of psychotic behavior. On attitudes expressed, people engaged in this recreational form are basically conservative, highly concerned with health and outdoor life, strongly patriotic and strongly in favor of obeying laws and preservation of public order.

It is very clear that they do not consider themselves as a “deviant” group, and do not view their behavior as either morally or legally wrong in the deeper sense that it could be considered an action of real danger to society. It is a very “long-lasting” behavior pattern, and people engaged in it are very unlikely to cease their activity no matter what efforts are made to suppress it.

At the present time the entire behavior represents a good example of “decriminalization” in that while laws against it remain on the books of most states (albeit they are very vague in some) the enforcement depends almost en tirely on local sentiment. Anytime enough pressure is brought to bear, or when the conduct is considered offensive by enough local citizens, it usually moves elsewhere.

About the only real effect of a national act of legislation to make this activity a felony would be to “criminalize” a considerable number of other wise law-abiding taxpayers without in great decrease in the activity itself. Any behavior so strongly rooted in history and tradition will survive, but be ing criminalized would bring individual grief to many citizens who are otherwise solid pillars of the community.

From this survey, it would appear that little could be gained in terms of national order by a national legislative act that is not now covered by local action.

There is no attempt in this survey to make any judgments on the “cruelty” or lack of in cock fights. Strong arguments can be made for both sides of this question, but they are basically emotional. We were concerned with whether, be cause of their somewhat variant recreational behavior, these people were demo-graphically or psychologically “different” from general population, and whether or not these differences, if any, would be apt to create other problems, or breed general disrespect for the law or accepted moral attitudes. All the evidence to date indicates that this activity, which seems to maintain a remarkably even level of participation through time, poses no serious threat to the public order.

Professor William C.
Clemson University
Box 1506
Clemson, South Carolina 29631

Capel Professor Clifton Bryant
VA Polytechnical Institute and State University

poultry gamefowl chicken gamecock


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