Is it Ethical to Use Animals in Sports?
Another interesting ethical issue in sports is the morality of using animals in sports and whether it is right to use them in bloodsports such as cockfighting. In order to understand the issue we have to go back in time and examine the relationship between human beings and animals has been pondered over by philosophers since the ancient times. Pythagoras, the Greek philosopher and mathematician advocated respect for animals as long ago as the 6th century BC because he believed in the transmigration of souls between humans and animals. Other religions such as Buddhism and Jainism have also preached kindness to animals as part of their core beliefs. Yet these philosophies have not prevented man from exploiting and using animals for entertainment and sports through the years. A number of sports in which animals are used are downright cruel: sports such as bullfighting, cockfighting, badger and bull baiting are pertinent examples of the appalling cruelty perpetrated by human beings on animals in the name of sport. Many of these 'animal sports' are still legal in several parts the world and are openly performed before large audiences. There are other, more 'humane' animal sports too; sports such as horse, dog, and camel racing although some people oppose the use of animals in all sports and consider it as cruelty to animals.
The complexity of human psyche, however, is such that it is not easy to explain the attitude of people towards animals. People who oppose the use of animals in sports are not necessarily the most peaceful and nonviolent citizens in their everyday lives. Similarly, those who enjoy watching cruel blood-sports such as cockfighting or bullfighting may be the meekest and most passive of citizens. Even the same individual is capable of exhibiting the most contradictory attitudes imaginable towards animals and fellow humans alike. For example, it is not uncommon to come across people who would readily run somebody off the road in road rage but almost kill himself to avoid hitting a squirrel. Coming back to the question whether it is ethical to use animals in sports; I believe that the attitude at either end of the spectrum is inappropriate. While it is clearly wrong to treat animals with such repulsive cruelty as is done in bull-fighting and cockfighting, opposition to more benign sports such as horseracing, in my opinion, is a little extreme.
Laws have been enacted in most countries to outlaw some of the cruelest sports involving animals such as bear and badger-baiting, dog fighting, and cockfighting has been otlawed in some countries. Activist organizations such as People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) are also fighting for 'animals' rights' and ending all forms of cruelty against them. However, bloodsports such as bullfighting that involve brutal torture and killing of animal' are proudly portrayed as a 'national sport' and a major cultural / tourist attraction in countries such as Spain and Mexico.
The Barbaro Case
An appropriate showcase of our society's attitude towards animals in sports was reflected in the famous "Barbaro Case" when the tragic and yet heroic struggle of a champion racehorse against a shattering injury captured the imagination of a nation.
Barbaro, a thouroughbred racehorse, won six straight races culminating in his resounding victory in the Kentucky Derby, 2006 when he was the winner by 6 and a half lengths. It was the biggest margin of victory in the event since 1946 and Barbaro was immediately hailed as a "superhorse" and a credible candidate for the Triple Crown (Pedulla, 2006). All eyes were on the undefeated 3-year-old colt as he took the field in the Preakness Stakes just two weeks after his Kentucky Derby triumph. The high expectations soon turned into tears as shortly after the start of the race, Barbaro broke his right hind leg in three places.
Such an injury is usually lifethreatening for a thoroughbred since, unlike other animals such as dogs, thoroughbred horses cannot normally survive on three legs. Barbaro, however, was a special horse and everyone hoped that extraordinary efforts to save his life would prove succesful. He was immediately rushed to the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center, where he underwent a five-hour operation to fuse two joints in his hind leg. The whole of American race fans seemed to be caught in a collective vigil as they followed every move of Barbaro's slow and excruciating recovery from injury ("Barbaro Euthanized..." 2007). A throng of visitors showed up at the hospital with...
Things took a turn for the worst in mid-July when laminitis struck Barbaro's left hind leg. It was the start of a tragic spiral into serious complications as laminitis affected both his front legs, leaving him without a healthy leg to stand on. Barbaro was now clearly in unbearable pain with little hope of recovery. His owners and doctors, ultimately, took the decision to euthanize him on January 29, 2007, ending his 8-month long ordeal.
Barbaro's fight against his gruesome injuries so completely captured the heart of most Americans as the brave colt was such an unadulterated hero. He had won the most famous horse race in the world by the widest margin in recent times and was poised to capture the Triple Crown when he was cruelly cut short in his prime by an unforeseen injury. His subsequent brave fight against heavy odds evoked further admiration and was a source of inspiration. The unprecedented love, care and affection that poured in for the fallen hero was, therefore, heartfelt and reflected America's respect for its heroes, sympathy for animals among most people, and perhaps a nagging guilt at being responsible for a tragedy -- all rolled into one.
Cockfighting is a bloodsport that involves a fight (sometimes to death) of two specially trained roosters placed in a pit. It has a history which traces back to times before Christ and was a favorite pastime in Egypt during the times of Moses; it also existed in the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations continues to be a popular spectator sport in several parts of the world and is the national sport of Philippines. ("The History of..." n.d.) the United States, too, has an old history of cockfighting, but it is now illegal in all its states except Louisiana and the U.S. controlled territories of Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, and Guam. Until recently, cockfighting was also legal in New Mexico but its state legislature passed a law against it in 2007.
The history of cockfighting in the United States is a reflection of man's contradictory feelings towards animals. Several of its founding fathers, who were otherwise great fighters for freedom and human rights, were dedicated cockers. George Washington himself was an ardent cocker and Thomas Jefferson was a cockfight breeder and entered his fighters in cock fights. ("The History of..." n.d.) President Andrew Jackson was also a great lover of cockfighting and Abraham Lincoln is reputed to have got his nickname "Honest Abe" not for his politics, but because of his honesty as a cockfighting referee (Berger, 2003). Hence, cockfighting remained a socially acceptable past-time in the United States for a long time. So much so that at one point in time, the fighting-cock almost became the national emblem, and only lost by one vote to the American eagle. ("The History of..."n.d.)
Whether it is a morally unacceptable and cruel sport or just a harmless cultural practice that is no better or worse than a bout of boxing is a debatable point. Supporters of the sport quote its ancient history, its religious origins, and our national heritage to justify cockfighting. They contend that the roosters are never forced to fight each; fighting is their natural instinct and the cockfighters only allow the natural instinct to take over, which cannot be termed unethical. The opponents of cockfighting, on the other hand, assert that it is a fallacy that these birds are such ferocious fighters. While roosters sometimes fight to establish a "pecking order"; such fights seldom result in serious injury. This is quite unlike the staged cockfights in which the birds are bred for maximum aggression and are even given drugs such as steroids, caffeine, and amphetamines to make them more aggressive. Moreover, the natural spurs of the roosters are sawed off and replaced by razor sharp steel blades or curved implements called gaffs that cause grievous injury / and/or death to each other ("Cockfighting Fact Sheet" 2007).
Ethics in sports is a wide-ranging and complex topic. It consists of questions such as: is it morally acceptable to use performance enhancing drugs…
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