Rip ’em Up

November 20th, 2009 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Tear ’em up. Cocks give ’em hell.

That was the common cheer when I was at University of South Carolina football games. I heard the cheer exhorting the team, the Gamecocks, many times. It wasn’t so much that I liked football. Rather the swim team, of which I was a member, had rights to sell programs and funnel the money to the underfunded sport.USC logo

As a journalism student, I was a reporter and editor on the newspaper. Of course it was The Gamecock. It is now a daily during the regular school year. My class expanded it from a weekly to three issues a week. When I arrived, the most popular feature was a Greek-society-oriented gossip column, Cock Tales. Yuk, yuk.

The  illegal cockfighting is apparently clandestine still occasionally happening and not just down South. This year, a bust in Connecticut was in the news. Just a few days ago, the more stereotypical version in rural South Carolina got the bad attention of state and federal police.

This goes back to the original European colonization in this hemisphere. The Spanish brought cockfighting to Mexico, New Mexico and California. While the Puritans banned it in New England as their like-minded chums did in England (but for the sin of gambling not animal cruelty), the other original colonies condoned or ignored it. Supposedly both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson bet on and otherwise participated in it, what was then considered a sport for gentlemen.

Not long after, in the first couple years of the 19th Century, South Carolina began and quickly adopted the gamecock as mascot and symbol. While the Confederate battle flag no longer flies officially there, the, well, cocky little bird remains ubiquitous. As well as on the university papers and anything of the sports teams, you can find that mascot on everything from beach towels to golf balls to cheese dip.

By law, cockfighting is illegal in this country except for the equivalent of colonies — Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Mariana Islands. However, the criminal nature varies widely, from felonies at the federal level and in 33 states to a misdemeanor likely to bring a fine…assuming a conviction. In Louisiana, the last state to outlaw it, cockfighting can bring $1,000 fine and six months in prison. In South Carolina, the maximum penalty for a first time is $100 and 30 days — not exactly a terrifying deterrent, rooster lovers.

Here in Massachusetts, cockfighting was outlawed in 1836, the first such formal ban n this country. Presently a detailed law (Chapter 272) lists such penalties as up to five years and $1,000 for owning fighting birds, a month in jail and a $250 fine for watching a cockfight, and loss of all birds and equipment of a fighting facility.

Gamecocks tee shirtAt least when I was there, locals and students had little interest in cockfighting. They did though enjoy the cheap related puns. Even now, I guess I never really got over it. I like wearing my tee shirt with eight-inch letters spelling COCKS.

Not everyone shares the humor of Carolina students. Consider PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals), which eight years ago tried to get the two schools with gamecock mascots (Alabama’s Jacksonville State being the other) to get the colleges to pick a less blood-sport symbol.

According to a piece in the State (S.C.’s biggest newspaper) at the time, PETA’s Kristie Phelps said, “It’s a safe bet that officials at the University of South Carolina would never dream of calling their athletic teams the Dogfighters, the Wifebeaters, the Looters or the Road-Ragers.” Predictably, the administrations said there was no interest in the change. Phelps may not have bolstered PETA’s stance with her response for alternatives:

The Gym Socks or the Pet Rocks or anything that doesn’t perpetuate animal cruelty. The Gamecocks can score points for kindness; they can be champions of compassion.

That may not be quite as absurd and baseless as it seems coming from that source. We should note that the Carolina motto is from Ovid [a widely used selection from his Letters from the Black Sea (Epistulae ex Ponto)].  He wrote concerning a liberal education:

Adde quod ingenuas didicisse fideliter artes
emollit mores nec sinit esse feros.

Many others, including Napoleon, used that as well. In South Carolina’s case, the literal translation, (liberal education) humanizes character and does not allow it to become fierce, has a vernacular definition — we make gentlemen out of roughnecks.The roughnecks, or rednecks as we Yankees are wont to call anyone south of New Jersey, aren’t much for cockfighting anymore. On the other hand, they aren’t much for being told from afar what’s proper for them.

I agree that any animal fighting for sport and gambling is cruel and should remain illegal. I don’t think that a legacy mascot will inspire a resurgence of it though.

It reminds me of my minor embarrassment of my high-school days at our mascot, a pretty but not very butch cardinal. A fighting rooster may also be just a bird, but it least it had an air of strength about it, an attitude that it could tackle more than a sunflower seed. As a member of the wrestling and swimming teams and sports editor, I rather envied the jungle cats and such mascots. …a cardinal?

For South Carolina, I’m pleased it turned its traditional sport into a crime. It should go all the way and make it a felony, but there’s time for that.

Thanksgiving Plus 2: Funny stuff for someone who cares little about football…Carolina did rip archrival Clemson today in their long-term T’day week battle (34-17).  The aggy school up in the hills was 15th in the nation, so it’s sort of too bad, but the folk in Columbia are likely callin’  “Give ’em hell!”

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