A Cock and Bull Story

March 10, 2003

Pro football was fun, but I've watched my last game. "I love
football as much as anyone," says Dan Shannon, a New England
Patriots fan and animal lover, "but it takes 3,000 cows to supply
the NFL with one year's worth of footballs." For every Super
Bowl, 3.8 steers sacrifice their hides. And that doesn't include
John Madden's dinner break.

As a newly responsible citizen of Earth, I can't condone college
football, either. "The University of South Carolina Gamecock
mascot," Shannon notes, "is a cockfighting bird with [spurs as
sharp as] razor blades." If I don't support the brutality of
cockfighting--which is a felony in South Carolina--how can I, in
good conscience, support its supporters?

I'm going to miss hockey. "But throwing octopi on the ice at Red
Wings games is just disrespectful to animals," says Shannon, a
vegetarian for whom flying calamari is every bit as distasteful
as frying calamari.

As sports campaign coordinator of People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals (PETA), Shannon helped persuade the NCAA to
abandon leather balls in favor of synthetic ones for the
forthcoming men's and women's basketball tournaments. But as long
as athletes wear leather sneakers, catcher's mitts or Kangols,
there'll be no dissuading him from dissing suede.

And so the kangaroo-skin cleats of Manchester United soccer star
David Beckham have me--if no longer the marsupials--hopping mad.
BUTCHERED FOR BECKS' BOOTS read a recent headline in the London
Daily Mail.

"The animals who end up as baseballs and soccer cleats suffer
confinement, crowding, branding, unanesthetized castration,
tail-docking, dehorning and cruel treatment during
transportation," reads a PETA press release, describing
conditions that mirror, almost exactly, those suffered by
sportswriters at the Super Bowl.

Except that most of us are never dehorned. Which is why we
devilishly persist in covering the annual Iditarod dogsled race,
which began last Saturday in Alaska. The nonprofit Sled Dog
Action Coalition contends that 119 dogs "have been run to death
or died from other causes" in the history of the Iditarod, a
1,150-mile sprint that is, even more than the cable-knit sweater
vest, the last thing a dog wants to find itself in.

As for thoroughbred racing, I'll watch it again when dudes on
horseback are replaced, at last, by horses on dudeback.

If I am to emulate St. Francis of Assisi, then, who can I root
for? Not the San Diego Padres, who'll play next year in PETCO
Park, named for the pet-supply chain whose very existence implies
man's mastery over beast. For the same reason PETA kiddingly has
asked the Green Bay Packers--whose name is derived from the
meat-packing industry--to become the Green Bay Six-Packers.

But that doesn't go far enough. I'd like to see the Lamb removed
from Lambeau Field. I'd like to see tailgaters put down their
bratwurst and pick up a notwurst, a vegetarian wurstlike product
that exists, so far, only in my imagination.

And perhaps in Les Alexander's. The owner of the Houston Rockets
is Man's Best Friend's best friend. That's why the Rockets'
dancers wear a uniform bearing a pro-animal-rights slogan and why
the food court in the team's new arena--to open next season--will
be a veritable vegeteria, a fact that frankly does not please all
sports fans. "If animals weren't meant to be eaten," says Jody
Brown, "then why are they made out of meat?"

Touche. Brown is a cattle rancher from Faith, S.Dak., who has no
beef with vegans, provided they don't try to convert the
carnivorous, especially in America's ballparks. A Colorado
Rockies fan, for instance, has every right--some say a duty--to
eat the deep-fried bull testicles for sale at Coors Field. "Most
people who go to sporting events aren't namby-pamby veggies,"
says Brown. "They're real, working people who enjoy eating."

True enough. But the conscientious sports fan is now responsible
for far more than the animal kingdom. He or she is now
responsible for the world and thus risks, with every decision,
paralysis by analysis. Consider this: There are 14,725 18-hole
golf courses in the United States, each one consuming, on
average, 150 acres. If each of these holes was linked in a single
gargantuan course, it would be really, really deflating to
realize--on the 10,393rd fairway--that you left your lob wedge on
the 7th green. But that is not, strictly speaking, my point.

My point is, this course would occupy an area larger than Rhode
Island. An area much larger, when you factor in driving ranges,
golf shops and John Daly. The U.S. has, in other words, a whole
State of Golf. And so one is duty bound to ask, as an
ever-more-crowded America turns away immigrants from her shores,
if this is a responsible use of our land.

The answer, naturally, depends on your handicap. But I, for one,
vow never again to swing a club. Unless I'm invited to Cypress
Point. In fact, as I now contemplate Don King, and bullfighting
and the Cleveland Indians' logo, I vow never again to leave the
house. The sports landscape is an ethical steeplechase. And don't
get me started on steeplechase.

B/W PHOTO: JEFFERY A. SALTER

For every Super Bowl, 3.8 steers sacrifice their hides. And that
doesn't include John Madden's dinner break.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)