By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Massachusetts became the first state in America to criminalize the breeding and fighting of gamecocks in 1836 (England banned the sport in 1849). Since then, 45 states have followed suit, most before the Great Depression. Cockfighting is a felony in 16 states, and a misdemeanor throughout most of the south, where rural sheriffs are said to wink at the practice.
The gamecock remains the state bird of South Carolina and the sports mascot for University of South Carolina teams. The magazine Grit and Steel carries full-color advertisements for cockfights and gamecock breeders in North Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Arkansas, Hawaii and other states with laws against the breeding and fighting of gamecocks.
Harsh enforcement in other states pushes cockfighting deeper underground. In March 1995, after a two-month undercover investigation, armed agents of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals stormed a cockfight in an old Bronx movie theater in New York City and made 394 arrests. Eighty gamecocks were seized and euthanized.
The National Humane Society offers a $2,500 bounty for information leading to the arrest and conviction of cockfighters where the sport is illegal.
"Those are Nazi tactics," says Hodges.
Arizona Humane Society director Ken White says he has personal commitments from 11 Arizona sheriffs, including Maricopa County's Joe Arpaio, to work with Humane Society officers to enforce Proposition 201. White says two of his officers are already working to train an animal cruelty task force Arpaio recently created.
"First it's cockfighting, next it will be hunting," warns Hodges.
White says that's an overstatement. "No matter what cockfighters fear, this is not the first step to a fascist, vegan planet."
At the behest of Citizens Against Cockfighting, Sheriff Clarence Dupnik of Pima County circulated a letter in support of Proposition 201 this summer to all of his Arizona peers, nine of whom had the letter retyped on their own office's letterhead and mailed back to CAC, who used the letters in fund-raising efforts in corresponding counties.
"I endorse the initiative to ban cockfighting in Arizona," Dupnik wrote. "I believe that cockfighting is a cruel bloodsport whose time has come and gone. In addition, I support the proposed ban because a variety of criminal activities including gambling, drug possession, rape, illegal weapon possession and homicide have been associated with cockfighting." (Emphasis his.)
"I'm surprised they missed arson," says Hodges.
He brings out photographs of the annual picnic the Arizona Game Fowl Breeders Association sponsors for the Valley of the Sun School, a facility for handicapped children.
"You couldn't ask for a better group of people," says Juanita Shaver, director of residential operations for the school. "They're very pleasant, very caring. They help us decorate every year at Christmas, and at the picnic, they cook all the food, and hire a band, and dance with our clients and push them in their wheelchairs. They're just wonderful with them. They bring animals for them to pet. One year they brought a pig dressed like a clown.
"You know, we're right across the street from the Humane Society, and they've never offered to bring any animals over for our clients to pet."
Shaver says this year would have been the 15th annual picnic sponsored by the cockfighters. "They can't do it this year because all their money's gone to lawyers, so this year we're hosting them to our Octoberfest."
The Valley of the Sun school's director confirms that Jamie Massey used to work for her, and showed up to the picnic one year wearing a blood-spattered shirt that read "Ban Cockfighting."
"I told him he had about five minutes to get off the grounds, or I was going to fire him," she says. "He left."
Dear Friends in Arizona: Anytime our freedoms are under attack it is important for each of us to speak up. The people trying to outlaw cockfighting are sponsored and supported by extremists who would like to see us all become vegetarians. . . . Everyone is entitled to their beliefs, but no one person or group has the right to impose their beliefs on others. For this reason, I hope that my friends in Arizona take a firm stand against them.
--"Argument against Proposition 201" statement from professional boxer Roy Jones Jr. printed in Division of Elections booklet for the upcoming election. Jones was raised a cockfighter in Florida, where the sport is illegal.
The Mortenson boys never fight cocks on the Sabbath, and they never bet. They're Mormons, and it's against their religion. For the same reason, says Russell, who's 28, one year Ray's junior, if Proposition 201 passes, they'll give up their gamecocks.
"We've been thinking about that issue a lot these days, and I think we've decided it would go against our morals too strongly to break the law, even if it seems all backward," Russell says.
The Mortensons' grandfather moved to Phoenix from Guadalajara and fought birds with Belton Hodges. Their dad took a pass on the tradition, but Russell and Ray picked it up as kids.
"We're Mexican, so I like to say it's in our blood, but it just skipped a generation," says Russell, a rental property manager.
Russell and Ray are the middle brothers in a family of 12. "We raised goats and chickens and rabbits; we ate off the garden. Basically, we're a family of those kind of Arizona people who live in the city, but are country at heart," says Russell.