CBSSports.com National Columnist

Split decision: Diminished Pacquiao fights chickens; I eat them

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Hate Mail: His style, your substance

Manny Pacquiao enjoys cockfighting, but it's worse than that. He raises fighting roosters in the Philippines, where the sport isn't illegal. Can't believe I'm even calling it a sport, this lust for blood, this spectacle of horror. It's evil, cockfighting. If there is a hell, they fight roosters down there.

So I'm writing today about Manny Pacquiao, and you can guess where I stand on his support for cockfighting, as outlined in a story in the November issue of Playboy. But I'm also going to write about me, and probably about lots of you, and we'll just see where I stand on the rest of us.

Because I sense some hypocrisy here in my stance on cockfighting. I'm horrified by that sport, horrified and heartbroken for a world that would tolerate such a thing in any country, much less revere it as they do in the Philippines, where cockfighting is televised six days a week and where a recent "Cock Derby" attracted 22,000 spectators, according to Playboy. They watch roosters die for their enjoyment. Me? I don't watch roosters die, but I know they are dying -- and they're dying for me. For my dinner.

Does that make me a hypocrite? It just might. I don't pretend to have an answer to that question, but it doesn't make me feel a lot better to rate my usage of roosters over cockfighting's usage of roosters. My sustenance, their entertainment, what's the difference? I don't know.

For some people, Manny Pacquiao's enthusiasm for cockfighting detracts from his admirable accomplishments in and out of boxing. (Getty Images)  
For some people, Manny Pacquiao's enthusiasm for cockfighting detracts from his admirable accomplishments in and out of boxing. (Getty Images)  
All I know is this: When I find out an athlete enjoys eating chicken, as Wade Boggs famously enjoyed eating chicken, it doesn't turn my stomach. When I find out an athlete enjoys fighting chickens, it makes me sick. It makes me change my mind, snap, like that.

Until that magazine article on Pacquiao revealed his love for cockfighting, he was one of my favorite athletes. Great fighter, obviously, probably the greatest pound-for-pound fighter today. He gets better with size and with age, which goes against the normal course of things. Most fighters lose power as they get bigger, and lose speed as they get older, or both. Not Pacquiao. He's better than ever, and he has always been sensational.

More than that, Manny Pacquiao is a nice man. Or has always seemed a nice man, until that article came out. He's a member of Congress in the Philippines, an army reservist. The guy cares about his country, his people.

And he participates in a sport where animals are destroyed for his pleasure.

I can't reconcile that any more than I can reconcile my own taste for chicken. I could be a vegetarian, you know. I don't have to eat meat. But life wouldn't be nearly as enjoyable without meat, so I eat it. I eat it and I don't ask questions about how that meat got onto my plate. I eat two eggs a day without asking how they got into my frying pan. I mollify my guilt by buying expensive eggs from "free-range hens," which means they don't live like most commercial hens live -- in cages, sitting their whole life, stacked on top of each other in rows as far as the eye can see, the hens on top getting fed enough to live, the hens below them catching what falls through the cracks, the hens farther and farther below eating a mixture of dropping grain and dropping feces. I don't buy those eggs, but I'm sure I've eaten those chickens. Again, I don't ask questions.

But I wanted to ask Manny Pacquiao how he could do such a thing, only he didn't return my message, left with one of his advertising agencies in Los Angeles. His only words on the matter are the words he gave to Playboy, which he told, "I like the sport. I like the roosters. It's like boxing -- the rooster has to be in shape. He has to train for the fight and he has to have so much fight in his heart."

Sounds honorable. It's not. Cockfighting is even worse -- much, much worse -- than it sounds. Roosters fighting to the end? It's worse than that, if you can believe it.

A cockfighting rooster is fitted with a 3-inch knife that is attached to its left leg, where his natural spur has been shaved to a nub to accommodate the foreign instrument of death. When its handler puts on the razor, the rooster is bothered, irritated. Angry. He picks at it, pecks at it, until he sees the other rooster standing in the fighting arena. And then he attacks, and is attacked in return. They go at it until one of them cannot go on, generally because one of them has been destroyed. Sometimes both have been destroyed.

These are details I didn't know until today, when I called John Goodwin of the Humane Society of the United States. Goodwin is the HSUS' director of animal cruelty policy, and as such has participated in legislative battles around the country to ban outrages like dogfighting and cockfighting -- which is illegal in all 50 states, and a felony crime in 39 of them. Goodwin often helps the government, as he did in the case of The United States vs. Michael Vick, and he has been there for raids of cockfighting dens.

That's where he has seen what becomes of these champion roosters, these pawns of gambling degenerates. He has one picture of two roosters, dead and discarded like trash after fighting to the death, one bird's intestines tangled up around the other bird's foot. He has a mental image of a living rooster from a raid, a bird whose stomach had been gutted wide open, its organs moving with every breath the bird took. It didn't have many breaths left, just enough to give Goodwin a memory nobody should have to keep.

So I asked Goodwin not just about Manny Pacquiao, but about my own hypocrisy. How can I write this flaming-mad story about Pacquiao, this fallen idol of mine, this man who is a hero to millions but now a zero to me, without feeling like a fraud? He kills roosters. I eat them. What's the difference?

"It's a good question," Goodwin starts off. "As modern factory-farming techniques come under more scrutiny, that will be debated more and more. But we need to make clear the distinction here. When animals are hurt and killed, we need to consider why -- what was the intent? Lot of arguments can go back and forth between vegetarianism and eating animals, but we have reached a social consensus about animals dying for our entertainment -- that's why it's illegal in all 50 states."

Well, that helps. But not much. Not really at all, actually. I still feel unsure of my moral footing for this story, but I'm positive I'll keep eating chicken. It makes my life more enjoyable.

Manny Pacquiao fights roosters for the same reason. To him, it makes life more enjoyable. It's legal in the Philippines, so he has the right to do it.

But I have the right to be appalled, and to be saddened, and to never again think of Manny Pacquiao as a good man.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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