published Saturday, May 21st, 2011

Bill to boost cockfighting penalty again defeated

A dead rooster lies in an animal crate
after more than 100 people were arrested in a cock fight in Polk County.
Contributed File Photo/Tom Farrow/Polk County (TN) Sheriff's Office
A dead rooster lies in an animal crate after more than 100 people were arrested in a cock fight in Polk County. Contributed File Photo/Tom Farrow/Polk County (TN) Sheriff's Office

May is prime cockfighting season.

Rooster fighting tournaments that kick off around Thanksgiving culminate in big-money derbies this month before the roosters start molting in the summer heat, officials say.

Although the practice was banned as a cruel blood sport in Tennessee in 1881, investigators say cockfighting is alive and well, with fights in the region almost every weekend.

Last summer, more than 100 people — most from out of state — were arrested at a cockfighting raid in Polk County.

Authorities said the bloody sport’s fans flock to Tennessee because, unlike in neighboring Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia, getting caught fighting roosters isn’t a serious crime.

Tennessee is one of only 12 states that don’t classify cockfighting as a felony. Though all other forms of animal fighting are felonies in the state, cockfighting is a misdemeanor, usually punished with a $50 fine.

For the past four years, Tennessee lawmakers have tried to increase the penalty for cockfighting and, for the past four years, the bills have been blocked before they reached the House floor.

“It is one of those anomalies in code. Fighting any other animal in the state is a felony, except for fighting roosters,” said Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, who sponsored a recent bill, along with Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, to make cockfighting a felony.

This time around, sponsors amended the bill to lessen the penalty from a felony to a $2,500 fine. It unanimously passed a Senate judiciary panel, but was unanimously voted down in a House agriculture subcommittee April 13.

Subcommittee member Rep. Frank Niceley, R-Knoxville, argues that cockfighting should not be a felony because there’s not the jail space — and because it’s a cultural tradition.

“Many people who buy these roosters, well, their fathers and their grandfathers have done it, and they don’t see anything wrong it with it,” Niceley said. “I don’t go to rooster fights and I don’t have fighting roosters but I have friends that do. They pay their taxes. They’re not bothering anybody. ... It’s been going on for centuries; I don’t know what the big deal is.”

Agriculture subcommittee Chairman Dale Ford, R-Jonesborough, reasons that keeping fines low will make the fights more accessible, meaning law enforcement can bust them more frequently.

“If we jump [the fine] to $2,500 it’ll go underground, and we’ll never be able to catch them,” Ford said.

Tom Farrow, a former FBI agent and now private animal-fighting investigator, doesn’t buy that argument.

“With that reasoning, let’s go ahead and make using cocaine a misdemeanor, so it’ll be easier to catch the drug dealers,” he said.

Farrow maintains that the state’s weaker code makes it a magnet for cockfights and affiliated crimes: gambling, money laundering and increasingly, drug use and dealing.

Niceley considers people coming from other states for the fights as a form of tourism.

“They buy food, they stay in hotels, they buy gas,” he said.


Countless bills meet their demise in subcommittees. But Lundberg alleges the cockfighting bills are deliberately killed by being put in the wrong subcommittee from the start.

Traditionally, bills proposing change to criminal statutes are assigned to the judiciary committees, but cockfighting bills keep ending up in the agriculture committees.

“It’s been assigned to agriculture for a long time, and that committee just has a history of killing those bills,” Lundberg said. “It shouldn’t be there.”

Last year, legislation to increase penalties for being a spectator at a cockfight was assigned to the agriculture committee and never was brought up for a vote. The bill passed unanimously in a Senate judiciary subcommittee.

“It’s like there’s an anti-cockfighting Senate and a small cabal of legislators who keep the House from ever being able to vote on it,” said John Goodwin, director of Animal Cruelty Policy for the Humane Society of the United States.


A supporter of cockfighting voiced vehement opposition to the bill on an online forum.

On, Butch Taylor, head of the Eastern Tennessee Gamefowl Breeders Association, wrote in February: “As usual, these two same morons are introducing felony bills into the law here in Tennessee. ... Talk to [our representatives] and let them know how much they are destroying rural America through these actions.

“I talked to two legislators and they are working hard for us,” he also wrote.

Taylor could not be reached for comment.

Goodwin said the Humane Society will not let up in its quest to tighten animal-fighting laws in the state.

“We’re not going to stop until we make cockfighting a felony in all 50 states,” he said.

Lundberg said he plans to sponsor another cockfighting bill next January.

“I inherently have problems when I think there are things that are logical that can’t be passed,” he said.

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TwinkleTN said...

Lynching was done for generations, but it was stopped. This is a terrible sport.

May 21, 2011 at 2:36 a.m.
hambone said...

Only in Tennessee does the state legislature condon criminal activity. If you have a CCW permit is it OK to carry your firearm to a cockfight?

May 21, 2011 at 8:52 a.m.
Echo said...

The punishment should be to be put naked in a porto-potty with four of these with the spurs on for ten minutes. OH hAMBOnE , it's not a CCW in Tennessee. It's a handgun carry permit. Open or concealed. Try not to wet your pants today if you see a handgun.

May 21, 2011 at 9:14 a.m.
hambone said...

Echo, I don't have any problem with those that want to carry firearms permit or not.

I have a problem with a state legislature that is more concerned with chicken sh** than the real problems of the people that elected them.

May 21, 2011 at 9:55 a.m.
gatoralan said...

these richardheads need to leave the tradtions alone,next these folks will want to outlaw grits for breakfast,an that jerk that said it needs to be all 50 states that due away with it is a nut or somebody that just trying to get re elected to sum office so he can graff more money for himself an his friends,an no i dont condone dog fighting or anything of that sort,maybe a good "catfight"with two gals,but other than that nothing wrong with that, they just want the money,thats what is all about

May 21, 2011 at 9:55 a.m.
nowfedup said...

Again TN falls behind the rest, "y wu jus gud ole boyus en think that killing en blood is gud", what a way to attract really good business with high paying jobs. Wonder how much money passed under table for this one? Wake up TN, the year is 2011, not 1911, time to join the human race.

May 21, 2011 at 10:02 a.m.
librul said...

They don't have time to enforce such laws, they're too busy stealing ....

May 21, 2011 at 10:59 a.m.
chrisbrooks said...

TN we got our work cut out for us. The right-wing extremists in the 107th General Assembly have attacked teachers, women, immigrants, working families and minorities. We can't even join the rest of the civilized world in making cock fighting a felony b/c, according to Frank Niceley R-Knox, "it is a cultural tradition" and the people who practice in this brutal and inhumane sport "are not bothering anybody." We need to ride them out on an anti-brutality, anti-bigot, anti-ignorant ticket.

May 21, 2011 at 11:29 a.m.
chrisbrooks said...

State Rep Frank Nicely refuses to vote for a law that would make the brutal & inhumane sport of cock-fighting a felony because "it is a cultural tradition" & because the people who practice it "aren't bothering anybody." He considers "people coming from other states for the fights as a form of tourism." Please tell this jackass what you think of him... (615) 741-4419

May 21, 2011 at 11:39 a.m.
chet123 said...

gator...i expect more from you

May 21, 2011 at 1:18 p.m.
chet123 said...

Frank Nicesley a REPUBLICAN REPRESENTITIVE from District 17....did i say REPUBLICAN Hmmmmm why tennessee elect these GOMERs.....this is the same group entertaining legislation to eat Road Kill...why are we paying these buffoon??????

May 21, 2011 at 1:26 p.m.
Julian1 said...

This is outrageous. Tennessee seems to want to advertise loudly and proudly to the rest of the world that it is backwards, ignorant, and bloodthirsty.

May 21, 2011 at 2:06 p.m.
brokentoe said...

librul,policing and politics in America have always been corrupt. Now TN wants to bring back moonshine and make it legal. They forget how many people died from poisoned moonshined in its day. Moonshine and cockfighting is to the south what apple pie is to America.

May 21, 2011 at 3:44 p.m.
hambone said...

Years ago I had a guy want to sell me $100 worth of food stamps for $20, so he could go to a cockfight. This is the kind of behavior Rep. Niceley calls troditional.

May 21, 2011 at 4:49 p.m.
chet123 said...

wheres PETA when you need them

May 21, 2011 at 5:31 p.m.
librul said...

Nah - it would take a full brigade of guardsmen to protect naked yuppies dressed up as roosters showing up to protest a cockfight. LOL

May 21, 2011 at 7:30 p.m.

Most of those who have posted are stating personal opinions and speculations. The raid in Polk County was strictly political and most of the "violators" were not fined enough to matter worth a flip. Y'all can squawk til the cows come ain't gonna change. Republican Nicely nailed's a cultural thang (he's merely representing his constituents), folks and those who visit our state do bring money into the area.

Now if the "criminals" who attend the fights were actually fined $2,500.00 maybe attendance would drop. Of course, there would have to be a raid and in Polk County, the lead detective said he knew little if anything about fights in his area. Wonder what he's been smoking!

Tennessee has so many laws on the books that are not enforced, it's actually humorous. Don't see the good old boys' mentality changing anytime soon.

May 21, 2011 at 9:12 p.m.
nucanuck said...

Take a look at chicken farming if you want to see a horror show. Misery and shame that we call a business.

May 21, 2011 at 9:22 p.m.
Acorncreek said...

awwww. did widdle J.P. and all his goonies get their feelings hurt? Im betting 1/2 of you posting arent even from tennessee, or that 90% of you know nothing about cockfighting. It is a heritage for Tennessee, so if you out-of-staters dont like it, dont come! Just stick to your euthanizations of millions of animals each year in the name of Humanity. Cockfighters dont kill 10% of what HSUS and PETA kills each year. If you all really care about Animals, Pass bills to stop Euthanizations....NO-KILL laws!

May 21, 2011 at 10:36 p.m.
NoMyth said...

Tennessee and Uzbekistan are very similar places.

May 21, 2011 at 11:58 p.m.
doubletake said...

Anyone who would strap razors onto the legs of an animal then place them into a confined area to slice each other to pieces until one or both of them die a horrible painful death and to do this for no other reason than the enjoyment of seeing the animals agony and to place bets on which one of the animals can last the longest by enduring the most pain and blood loss from the deep wounds are mentally sick and demented. Frank Nicely and Dale Ford are included in this category of people who enjoy not only seeing the death of the animals but also seeing the horror, and the pain as multiple lacerations are inflicted over and over again until their muscles can no longer hold them upright. They should be immediately removed from their public positions. In my opinion, anyone who can enjoy seeing the useless and torturous death of animals are not far from finding amusement in the torture of humans as well. The "big deal" is the soul of someone who can enjoy such rituals have been at some point turned into a murky chancre that can be very frightening to others. These sadistic rituals are allowed to continue because it was something done by grandparents of these heartless people, they pay their taxes, and they just don't see anything wrong with it. Perhaps Frank Nicely and Dale Ford (if they are capable) should reconsider the mentality of their argument. I truly hope that when these two are up for election, everyone remembers the comments made by these two in defense of the cock fight.

May 22, 2011 at 1:38 a.m.
SavartiTN said...

Seriously, what do you expect from a state that is making a point to remove the "right" to have an abortion from the state constitution, banning the teaching of homosexuality in schools, allowing guns in bars and state parks, and making laws that allow you take roadkill home? Hello! Are we back in 1900 again? Will the women be forced to wear dresses only?

Kind of silly to ban gambling in this state but not classify cockfighting as a felony, isn't it?

I feel rather embarrassed to be a Tennessean right now.

May 22, 2011 at 2:02 a.m.
Acorncreek said...

Oh you Animal Activist make it sound so outrageous! You've never seen a Rooster fight, yet you know so much about it!

You find this to be OK, but smirk at a cockfight!

Make me believe this is OK, then I will believe what you say about cockfighting is true!

May 22, 2011 at 10:31 p.m.
skb1203 said...

Who is not stunned that these comments are from a member of our legislature;

"Many people who buy these roosters, well, their fathers and their grandfathers have done it, and they don’t see anything wrong it with it,” Niceley said. “I don’t go to rooster fights and I don’t have fighting roosters but I have friends that do. They pay their taxes. They’re not bothering anybody. ... It’s been going on for centuries; I don’t know what the big deal is.”

Ok, folks, we all need to vote. I read of a gang group who participates in the destruction of our local community; drive by shootings, carjackings, rape .. they see nothing wrong with it, so why should we? Who has this type of mentality?

Clearly, we need to join forces and vote Rep. Niceley out. He is better suited elsewhere.

December 19, 2011 at 12:51 p.m.
JayMidTenn said...

Here is why Tennessee and the rest of the south is different then everywhere else. Its because the southern people are ashamed. Ashamed of how everywhere else in the US is critical of religion but believes we should teach things like what being gay means. What would you like the teachers to do draw there students a picture of one dudes dick going into another dudes butthole? Thats sick. The south wants to be left alone by the rest of the US. Simple as that.

June 27, 2012 at 12:51 p.m.
willowswspr said...

Even sadder is the fact that this bill included dog fighting. Which is a felony on the federal level. Our state lawmakers cant even do whats right to try and come up to par with the federal laws. Just shows ou how ass backwards this state is.

April 10, 2013 at 8:55 a.m.
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