Monthly Archives: May 2012

Cash Flow

May 31, 2012

A selective list of funding requests approved by the Birmingham City Council.

(Dollar amounts and the name of the organization that received city funds are followed by text from the Council’s agenda explaining how the money is to be used.)

May 1, 2012

Item 35
$3,000 to the Birmingham Board of Education.
“to be donated to Princeton Alternative Elementary School for general education purposes to purchase/finance materials, resources, incentive books, field trips, professional development, parent education, reading programs, etc.”

Item 36
$2,000 to the Birmingham Board of Education.
“to help cover the costs of Huffman High School’s band uniforms.”

Item 39
$1,000 to Railroad Park Foundation.
“to help fund the Park’s ‘Relax by the Tracks,’ music series at the patron level.”

Item 41
$250 to Vulcan Park and Museum.
“to help fund the 2012 ‘Thunder on the Mountain’ show at Vulcan Park.”

Item 42
$1,200 to Vulcan Park and Museum.
“to help fund the 2012 ‘Thunder on the Mountain’ show at Vulcan Park.”

May 8, 2012

Item 15
$45,000 to Charles Williams & Associates, Inc.
“to provide basic architectural services for ADA Accessibility Upgrades at George Ward Park Project.”

Item 16
$20,200 to Building and Earth Sciences, Inc.
“to provide special inspection and construction materials testing for the Fire Station #14.”

Item 34
$136,650 to Battle Miller Construction Corporation, Hoover.
“for ADA Accessibility Upgrades for W. C. Patton Park.”

Item 35
$43,443 to Covington Flooring Company, Inc.
“for Crossplex Bleacher Padding.”

May 15, 2012

Item 32
$37,500 to Alabama Roofing and Sheetmetal Company, Inc., Anniston.
“for Rickwood Field Cupola Roof Repair.”

May 22, 2012

Item 33
$350 to the Vulcan Park and Museum.
“to help fund the 2012 ‘Thunder on the Mountain’ show at Vulcan Park.”

Item 34
$500 to the Vulcan Park Foundation.
“to help fund the 2012 ‘Thunder on the Mountain’ show at Vulcan Park.”

Item 35
$250 to the Vulcan Park and Museum.
“to help fund the 2012 ‘Thunder on the Mountain’ show at Vulcan Park.”

Total expenditures noted in this issue: $291,343

Total expenditures noted in this column since July 1, 2011, the start of the fiscal year: $30,932,554.92

Total expenditures noted in this column since November 22, 2005: $435,217,144.67

Feathered Warriors

Feathered Warriors

Alabama is the only state in which the legal penalties for cockfighting are almost nonexistent, making it a destination for cockfighting enthusiasts from around the country. The Alabama legislature is perfectly comfortable with the status quo.

(click for larger version)

May 17, 2012

Cockfighting has been illegal in Alabama since 1896. Yet more than a century later, the state’s fighting pits attract cockfighters like ants to a picnic, courtesy of the weakest cockfighting laws in the nation.

Currently, cockfighting (including promoting the event or attending as a spectator) is a Class C misdemeanor, the penalty for which is a fine of only $50. On April 26, Senate Bill 175, which would make cockfighting a Class A misdemeanor and increase the fine to $6,000 and possibly a year in jail, once again failed to be brought to a vote by the State Senate when a filibuster appeared probable. However, it was the first time the bill has made it out of committee to the Senate floor.

“A speeding ticket you get on the way to the cockfight carries a bigger penalty than one for actually participating.” —District 14 Senator Cam Ward of Alabaster

As Senate majority leader representing the 16th District, State Senator Jabo Waggoner of Vestavia placed the proposed law on the list of “special order” bills for the April 26 vote. However, a group of senators opposing the bill indicated a lengthy debate was expected, so once again senators voted to carry the proposal over to another legislative session.

Opposition to the tougher penalties is spearheaded by the Alabama Gamefowl Breeders Association (ALGBA or AGBA). ALGBA was founded in 1978 “to promote the breeding of gamefowl to their full potential as the ‘ultimate’ in spirit and courage,” according to the association web site. The association is a member of the United Gamefowl Breeders Association (UGBA), whose national headquarters is located in Daleville, Alabama.

In a telephone conversation several days after the delay, Waggoner was asked if ALGBA was the leading opponent of S.B. 175. “There was a good bit of opposition. I don’t know who the organized opposition is. I’m sure it’s the ‘rooster people,’ whoever that might be,” he responded. “I doubt I have any in my district. I don’t think we have any cockfighting in Vestavia or Hoover,” he added with a chuckle. “There is a powerful group for [the bill], too. They nearly drove me crazy. I bet I had 50 calls one day at my home, and they probably had 200 calls in support of the bill in Montgomery [at his Senate office]. They were putting out little cartoons that I was aiding and abetting the cockfighting industry, you know, like I was for it. Really irritated me. But anyhow, it was on the ‘special order,’ so they’re having their day in court.” Waggoner has publicly stated his opposition to cockfighting. He also claimed that he didn’t know how much the penalty would be increased by the bill.

“There’s a lot of money involved in that game and that’s exactly why [there is opposition to increased fines],” said District 14 Senator Cam Ward of Alabaster, who sponsored the bill. “This bill does nothing to keep you from raising a gamecock; there’s nothing to stop you from selling roosters. There are people out there making big money off [cockfighting]. I don’t know how anybody could be against this bill. I’ve had people call me; I’ve had threats on this issue. They said, ‘We do this all the time, why don’t you leave us alone’. A speeding ticket you get on the way to the cockfight carries a bigger penalty than one for actually participating.” Ward has no doubt who the opposition is. When asked by Black & White if the threat of a filibuster indicated the political power of the Alabama Gamefowl Breeders Association, he replied, “It does. They’re very powerful in Senator Singleton’s district. They’ve always been big supporters of his.”

Ward was referring to Senator Bobby Singleton of Greensboro, who represents counties in western central Alabama. Singleton asked Ward during a April 26 debate on the Senate floor what would happen if the roosters he raises started fighting on their own in his yard. “I’ve got about ten cocks in my pen, they’re not used [for] fighting,” said Singleton. “But I raise them—raise the roosters and raise some hens. And I don’t want to be mistaken [for a cockfighter]—that one day the police stop by and they see a couple of my roosters out there fighting [and claim] that I’m trying to participate in a cockfight.”

Breeders attach spurs to the roosters’ legs to make certain that a cockfight is mortal combat. (Photo: Superbass _ CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons) (click for larger version)



When Senator Ward explained that a cockfight was defined as an “organized event,” Singleton asked, “Well, I mean, what do we call ‘organized event?’ That [definition] could be totally loosely held. Are we looking for there to be an advertisement? Would just a few fellows hovering around be called an organized event? Or does it have to say that I sent out a notice to someone to meet me over at my farm place, that we’re gonna have a cockfight? Would that establish an organized event?”

When Ward noted that “wagering” is also included as one of the illegal activities being addressed, Singleton said, “There’s gambling on any fall day in the state of Alabama. We wager on our two universities. There are board games that are going on. Gambling is illegal in this state. But yet and still, because you said these were organized [cockfights], then would you take a friendly amendment to add in any board games, [any] gambling, [including] Saturday football?”

Ward answered: “Yeah, [gambling] is part of it. But that’s not the [main thing] . . . Because two football players aren’t designed to get in a pen and kill each other like two roosters are.” Singleton didn’t miss a beat. “But they’re gladiators. Your definition didn’t say ‘designed to get in a pen and kill each other.’ I just think that this bill is an unnecessary bill,” said Singleton. “We’re not having that major many (sic) arrests. There’s nothing to say that organized cockfighting is going on in this state.”

At times, a bird’s lung filled up with blood after suffering a puncture wound. It was common to see a handler stick a chicken’s head in his mouth to suck the blood from the animal’s lungs.

Singleton continued: “I think that these are just organizations that are out there just like the PETA group. I could have two dogs tied up and they want to tell me about what to do with my dogs.” When asked if he would support legalization of cockfighting, Singleton laughed and said, “I don’t have a problem with it. You know, I’m for gambling in this state. You’re asking the wrong guy. Ain’t no shame in my game about it! I’ll do that!”

Regarding Senator Singleton’s support of cockfighting, Jabo Waggoner said, “Yeah, I thought Bobby Singleton was going to filibuster the bill. I’m sure the district he represents has a lot of people that [cockfight]. I’m sure [cockfighting] is a rural Alabama sport.”

The Humane Society has requested that the Alabama attorney general’s office investigate the non-profit status of ALGBA, according to Mindy Gilbert, state director for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). “The bottom line is that in order to get in some of these bigger cockpits, you have to show a membership card from ALGBA, which is a nonprofit organization,” said Gilbert. “A couple of our informants had to buy memberships to ALGBA to get into an illegal cockfight.” Alabama Nonprofit Corporation Law allows nonprofit status only for organizations whose purpose is “lawful,” according to the HSUS letter to the attorney general. The letter cites several examples of ALGBA’s alleged connections to state cockfights as well as those of the national umbrella organization UGBA in other states.

High stakes
Cockfighting is outlawed in all 50 states, with 40 prosecuting the sport as a felony. In 2002, President Bush signed legislation that made the transport of roosters across state lines to participate in fights a federal crime. This was a blow to the bird-fighting industry in Louisiana—one of two states at the time where it was still legal to fight chickens, thus making it a destination for cockfighters from around the country. In 2007, Louisiana became the last state to make rooster fights illegal. (The first conviction is a misdemeanor, with a fine of $1,000; a second conviction is a felony that includes a fine of up to $2,000.) As a result, Alabama has become a safe haven for cockfighting because of the state’s low fine.

Staging rooster fights has always been a lucrative business. Recently, the total prize money at a large gamefowl pit in Citronelle, near Mobile, reportedly reached a quarter of a million dollars, with entrants paying $400 per bird to fight the six roosters they brought to the derby. Sixty years ago, the entry fees were astonishingly exorbitant. A 1946 issue of The Gamecock magazine features advertisements for tournaments with entry fees up to $1,000. Gaffs (two-inch long curved spikes that are attached to a rooster’s foot) were advertised for $20. There’s an ad for a dietary supplement called Action Tabs, which would “put a cock right at time of fight.” Tips on the best way to “heel” (attach a weapon) a bird are simple: “Hold him as you would a loaf of fresh bread and not as you would a football or watermelon.”

Several publications serve the worldwide cockfighting community. (click for larger version)



Another gamefowl publication, Grit and Steel, has been publishing since 1899. In a 1999 issue, prices for fighting cocks are $500, with hens going for $200 and up. Gaffs now sell for $80 each. Grit and Steel has articles on breeding farms with colorful names like Hi-Tech Redneck Game Fowl in North Carolina and the Ace-Maker Hatchery in Turlock, California. The weapon maker of choice is the Killingsworth Gaff Company.

Most cockfights in the United States are gaff fights. Sometimes birds fight with a knife blade attached to their spurs instead. These are called “slasher fights,” and are popular in the Philippines. A slasher match usually doesn’t last more than 30 seconds due to the greater severity of wounds. The Philippines are home to a renowned cockfighting extravaganza called the World Slasher Cup, where expert Filipino cockers take on breeders from around the world. Ferdinand Marcos, a gamefowl enthusiast, ordered cockfighting legalized by presidential decree. Marcos was especially fond of Alabama gamefowl aficionados, flying some of the state’s top breeders to the Philippines to train his birds.

Witnessing a Cockfight
I met Leon in 2001 through his brother-in-law, who told me that Leon was a “gentleman farmer” in south Alabama who might take me to a Louisiana cockfight after I had expressed interest in writing about such debauchery. In addition to raising and fighting his own birds, Leon had operated cockfighting pits in north Alabama in the 1970s. Smitten with gamecocks because of their relentless will to survive, Leon summed up the allure: “It’s a fascination with that particular animal, like some folks might have for Siamese Fighting fish. I love watching roosters perform and I love preparing them for a fight.”

When not doting on his chickens, Leon practiced law in a small town where he owned a farm with a world-class rooster-fighting operation. His birds were bred according to centuries-old bloodlines. Leon’s roosters would be fighting at the Milk Dairy Game Club near Tickfaw, Louisiana, in three weeks and were on a strict diet, complete with vitamin supplements. Pulling a couple of roosters from their cages, he strapped tiny boxing gloves called muffs onto their feet so they could spar. He then flipped them heels over head with his hand several times, a daily routine to prepare them for fighting despite being thrown off balance by an opponent. Lobster claws, which he claimed toughened their beaks and spurs, were tossed to the birds after the workout. He repeatedly told me that roosters were naturally aggressive. “I had one damn bird that saw his reflection in my truck’s hubcap. He attacked the hubcap so hard that he killed himself,” he said, laughing. I asked if cockfighters ever got emotional when a favorite bird got killed in the ring. Rolling his eyes, he shrugged and said, “Nah, it’s just another fight.”

Cockfighting season runs from January until May. Leon gave me directions to the Milk Dairy Game Club, where I met him on a Saturday at sunrise in February 2001. He introduced me to his fellow cockers as “a guy writing a cockfighting story.” His pals were not particularly impressed, and attempts at conversation were awkward at best. One fellow laughed that he had just as soon let his favorite rooster attack my throat instead of placing him in the pit to fight.

This was a derby event. Each cocker brought six birds to fight over the duration of the day, with an entry fee of $100 per rooster. Whoever had the most winners at day’s end would take home the $60,000 prize money. Birds fought only once. If more than one fighter had an unbeaten team of roosters, the $60,000 would be split. The Milk Dairy Game Club was a 300-seat arena built specifically for cockfighting. The price of admission was $15. No alcohol was allowed. A concession stand sold burgers and fries. Entire families were among the patrons, with children running around. It was weird.

Each fight began in the main pit where the grandstands were. If there wasn’t a winner in ten minutes, the pair of birds was taken to the drag pit. Located in a concourse area behind the main arena, the drag pit featured several 10 foot by 12 foot pens where fights were completed, with four or five bouts taking place at once. It’s the most gruesome area to watch a match because the birds fight only a few feet away from spectators. It was surreal and stomach-wrenching. Fighting roosters often get hung up on one another’s gaff, so the handlers frequently had to come out to separate them. At times, a bird’s lung filled up with blood after suffering a puncture wound. It was common to see a handler stick a chicken’s head in his mouth to suck the blood from the animal’s lungs.

In order to blend in, I decided to place a wager. The fight that I bet on lasted 45 grueling minutes, with the winning bird gaining a second wind despite fighting with a punctured eye and a broken wing. Defeated roosters not killed during a match have their necks rung by their owners immediately after a match because a beaten animal is no longer considered “game.” An animal that has lost its will to fight is as good as dead in the cockfighting world. I was no longer game either, losing a hundred dollars on that bout. Having watched enough chicken fighting to last a lifetime, I headed for the exit. It was the strangest Saturday I’ve ever spent. As I walked away from the drag pit, I stepped over several dead birds strewn on the dirt path leading to the door. On the wall there was a sign that read: Please throw all fallen warriors on the ground and not in trash cans.

Black & White asked D’Renda Lewis, secretary of the Alabama Gamefowl Breeders Association, about the organization’s position on cockfighting. Ms. Lewis explained: “The majority of game fowl breeders don’t have a problem with cockfighting. You are looking at it from an animal rights perspective; why not look at it from the animal’s perspective? It’s that bird’s instinct to fight, and fight to the death. Wouldn’t it be more cruel to not allow that animal to follow its natural course? Those birds are going to fight anyway.

I don’t have the hang-ups that other people have about this. As for minor children going to cockfights, if there is gambling I understand the problem, but otherwise, I mean, these kids were raised on a farm with chickens, so by the time they get to a cockfight they’ve already seen a lot worse than that. But cockfighting isn’t really about gambling anyway. It’s about raising a supreme athlete.” &