Sunday, November 13, 2022

Is bullfighting a sport?

     This ran in the Sun-Times Sports Saturday section. Why? They have all that glorious space. Really, it's like a Sports Illustrated-quality magazine wrapped around a newspaper. They happily gave this story room to stretch its legs and run.

     Jane Addams went to a bullfight in Madrid and it changed her life, for the better.
     More about that later.
     I toss out that fact not to use the famed Chicago reformer and social worker as a human shield to cover my own attendance at a bullfight — which did not prompt me to devote my life to good works, at least not yet. But as a reminder that morality is complicated.
     Though the reason I went to a bullfight is fairly straightforward: I found myself in Madrid on a Sunday afternoon in early October, toward the end of bullfighting season. In fact, when my wife declared we were going to Spain, attending a bullfight was the first activity I thought of, before the notion of Prado artworks or Gaudi architecture crossed my mind.
     Honestly, it was the one thing I really wanted to do, fulfilling the cliche and touchstone of Spanish culture, plus a hangover from a lifetime reading the works of Ernest Hemingway, with his idolization of machismo, hunting, fishing and the confronting of angry cattle.
     My wife is not a fan of Hemingway and was not enthusiastic about the idea. Really? A bullfight? A few hours of bloodletting and sadism? On our vacation?
     She didn’t speak those words, but I drew them out of her expression, and I mustered two arguments. First: “We have to go, we don’t have to stay.” It wasn’t hugely expensive. Tickets are as cheap as 5 euros — about $5 with the strong dollar. Go, pop our heads in, take a look, flee in revulsion if need be. I think my primary goal was to tell people that I had been to a bullfight, not quite grasping the head-shaking censure I would eventually face. (“How could I not?” I flustered to one friend. “Because it’s the 21st century,” he answered, coldly.)
    Second, and this addressed the moral objections: “Those bulls are dying whether we go or not.” Bulls have been fought in public spectacle since Roman times. The practice isn’t going to crumble because my wife and I take in a flamenco show instead. Leave virtue signaling to smug zealots.

To continue reading, click here.


  1. At first I was wondering, “Is Neil pulling our leg? Is he really justifying his going to a bullfight?” Then I wondered what a stretch it was to link the motivation for Jane Addams’ work to the abuse of animals. Certainly she was predisposed to doing wonderful things. I doubt this is what inspired her.
    Yes bulls die but not necessarily in such a cruel manner. We all know what goes on in the ring but we don’t have to go to confirm it.
    My son and his girlfriend recently returned from Spain. They are brilliant and very curious people like you but somehow managed to find other things to do.
    I guess it’s to each his own. I can accept that.

    1. I suppose you could justify buying ivory by the same token. Or, to take it to an extreme, child pornography.

    2. If you consider a child the same as a bull, yes. Honestly, I think the ethical blindness of people attacking going to a bullfight are worse than going to a bullfight. I had a reader go through a whole Holocaust analogy, obviously forgetting that Jews aren't bulls either.

    3. That’s needlessly insulting. Of course, I don’t consider a child to be the same as a bull. But I do consider excusing participation in a cruel endeavor by the fact that it would occur anyway to be unconvincing. Would you attend a dog fight? A cock fight?

  2. If bullfighting is a sport, then the guys who kill the cattle at slaughterhouses are the ultimate sportsmen!

  3. If I remember my Hemingway correctly, the mark of a truly excellent bullfighter was the clean kill at the end.
    Hemingway's observation being that the animal should be shown respect in the ring by a quick death as painless as possible.

    My only experience with bullfighting is that as a child in the '60s they televised it on one of the VHF channels. The commentary was completely in Spanish and it was difficult to really understand what was going on until after a while and then it became clearer
    I've no objection to the killing done correctly. It's the torturing that comes before.
    I'd go to a fight given the opportunity
    Wouldn't seek it out intentionally.

  4. Any opinions on cockfighting, dog fighting or big game hunting? Hard to make a case for any of these sports(?). Regional or national culture be damned.

  5. Everybody dies eventually. Doesn't make enjoying torture okay.

  6. Every spring, my high school's Spanish teachers would take tour groups to Mexico, and they always went to the bullfights. My sister went in '69, the week she turned eighteen. As an animal-lover who wanted to skip college and train guide dogs for the blind (but wasn't yet old enough), the killing bothered her. But it was mostly the macho males in adjoining seats who bothered her--and her friends--even more. They were constantly hit-upon, until she told them to STFU, in plain Spanish.

    I always wanted to go to a bullfight, but not after I learned that the animals are not always dispatched immediately. The kills are not always quick or clean or humane, as Mister S found out. I am neither bothered nor offended if someone goes to a bullfight. I understand his point of view. You got to see a add to your litany of life experiences. People who don't care for baseball might even go to Yankee Stadium when they visit New York. Not for the game, but for the experience itself. Works for me.

    The Spanish word "torero" is used to describe anyone who takes part in the bullfight itself...from the verb "torear" fight bulls. Which comes from the Latin "taurus" (bull). That word also includes the picadors...either on foot or on horseback. The verb "matar" means "to kill"...hence the word "matador"...the killer. So it's not like Mr. S. didn't know what to expect. He knew that going in. Literally as well as figuratively.

    Spaniards do not say "toreador" for "bullfighter." Someone who lived in Spain for many years once told me that the word isn't used at all. It may even have originated from Bizet's opera "Carmen"...mostly because it fit into the lyrics more easily...and it rhymed with other words. He probably added the suffix "-ador" (one who does something or performs an in "stevedore" for dock worker) to "torero."

  7. Hmmm... a rare kerfuffle between top-flight EGD commenters and our host.

    When I saw this in the paper, my first inclination was to skip it, since I've never had the remotest interest in bullfighting. In answer to the question posed atop today's post -- no, I see no reason why it should be considered a sport. Even Hemingway acknowledged that much, as noted in the article.

    But I read a lot of things that Neil writes that are about things I don't care about, and went with a version of the "Bobwatch" rationale -- in effect, he attended this and I don't have to.

    Frankly, I never understood *Hemingway's* fascination with bullfighting; NS's interest in attending is somewhat surprising to me, but who am I to judge? (Other than that I'm an extremely judgmental bastard, of course!) His personal choice notwithstanding, though, he's a wonderful reporter and this luxurious 4-page spread in the Sun-Times was compelling. I thought he did a fine job of detailing what took place, while not shying away from the ethical issues raised, nor the historical perspective.

    That being said, writing that "going to the bullfight, seeing what it is like, not turning away, is the more moral act" is a bridge too far for me and the friend's comment about not going "Because it’s the 21st century" is pretty much where I think I'd land on the topic.

    I'll just note that in the paper, the headline and subtitle are much more flippant than the web version of the article, which is titled "Is bullfighting a sport?" followed by "A visit to the Madrid bullrings raises questions, starting with: Should anybody even go?" Whatever one thinks about bullfighting, the piece raised that question and reported on the proceedings accurately.

    1. Thanks Jakash, that was my thinking. Anyone who considers me an paragon of virtue isn't reading closely. I did draw the line at eating whale bacon in Hiroshima. But I was tempted....


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