By David Cantor - [email protected]
Claims by hunters, officials, and outdoors columnists
that hunting is a sport have long caused segments of the public to
accept that notion. Yet an activity is not necessarily a sport just
because those who practice it claim it is or because authorities
reinforce the notion.
It is very much worth questioning whether hunting is in
fact a sport -- since hunting is a life-and-death matter with
irrevocable results and many people deplore the deliberate killing of
wildlife legally owned by all of us in common. The relevant facts lead
to the conclusion that hunting is not a sport.
Consider activities universally accepted as sports, and
you can see they share several qualities. Team sports like soccer,
football, hockey, rugby, and basketball and sports of mainly individual
effort like pole vaulting, shot put, marksmanship, skiing and tennis
involve only participants who choose to take part and understand the
object, skills, rules of the sport.
That cannot be said of hunting since key participants --
the nonhuman targets of the human participants -- do not know they are
participating and do not choose to do so. They do not know the object is
to kill them or the rules or regulations that govern hunting. Animals
may sense danger, but that is a far cry from knowing they are
participating in a sport. The more accustomed to human presence an
animal is, the less "sporting" some hunters consider it to shoot that
animal, but that does not mean shooting animals is a sport -- it just
means hunters choose to use that terminology.
Even in the most violent of sports, killing participants
is never the object. Even though some people believe boxing should be
illegal due to brain and other injuries often inflicted and deaths
sometimes caused, inflicting injury or causing death is not the object
of boxing. Hockey players, though castigated or ejected for undue
violence, seek to get the puck into the opposing team's goal and prevent
it from entering theirs, not usually to harm or kill opponents.
In those sports as in others, all participants know
their sports, know the risks, and choose to participate. Not so with
hunting, in which the aim is to kill nonhumans forced to participate
unbeknownst to them and in which severe wounding without death or with
slow, agonizing death often occurs. Of course, no veterinary "trainers"
rush onto the field to help wounded Canada geese, deer, mourning doves,
or others while an aggrieved audience hopes for the best. After all,
killing is the objective.
The only way around this argument that hunting is not a
sport is to claim human beings are the only participants -- that the
animals are not participants. In support, one would have to claim
hunting could take place without animal "quarry" or that animals are not
conscious beings capable of participating in anything. Both would be
patently ridiculous assertions. The first contradicts the definition of
hunting. The second contradicts scientific knowledge that animals are in
fact conscious beings and that they participate in many things, such as
seeking food and cover, watching for predators to protect self and
social group, building nests, raising young, and more.
If, by calling hunting a sport, hunters simply mean they
have fun doing it, sure, that fits one definition of "sport." But that
would acknowledge hunting should not be respected like sports involving
challenge, competition and sportsmanship including all participants'
knowledge and consent. And killing for fun, smacking of the utmost
disrespect for life, is always discouraged in a civilized society.
That is not to say some hunters, wildlife officers,
elected officials, and members of the press do not honestly believe
hunting is a sport. But they are seriously mistaken. They misunderstand
as countless people have always misunderstood things. But in the case of
hunting, their error is a basis of terrible suffering in animals and of
distress in people who care about animals. Therefore, it must be
understood that hunting is not a sport.
David Cantor, executive director of Responsible Policies
for Animals, Inc., lives and works in Glenside, Pennsylvania. He has
advocated for animals and published articles and letters on animal
protection since 1989.
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