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Arguing the First Amendment, ToughSportsLive Website Wants to Broadcast Cockfighting

MIAMI – Ask Jason Atkins about the Michael Vick dogfighting scandal, and his reaction is anger and disgust.

“I just thought, you know, [he’s] gotta be the worst criminal I’ve ever seen,” he says.

Animal rights advocates might find that response surprising, because Atkins’s Web network, ToughSportsLive.com, features live cockfighting from Puerto Rico — which, while legal there, is banned now in all 50 U.S. states.

“Our ultimate goal is to be a cultural website,” Atkins says of the site. “To produce and show the world’s various cultural sporting events.”

So far, those cultural sporting events mostly involve blood and bikinis. In addition to cockfighting (which is shown on LiveCockfights.com, a subchannel of ToughSportsLive), ToughSportsLive offers broadcasts of bare knuckles, no rules Brazilian jujitsu matches dubbed “Rio Heroes,” and what Atkins says is a sport made for America, “Girls and Guns,” in which women wearing bikinis accessorized with double-thigh holsters and high-healed combat boots compete in a shoot-off of weapons that could easily outfit an American combat platoon in Iraq — everything from M-249 SAWs to Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifles.

Atkins, an ex-Marine sniper and former insurance fraud investigator, says he doesn’t like hunting or fishing and isn’t even a fan of cockfighting, but feels people have a right to see it if they want to — and his company has a right to provide it.

“I’m just here to show the world sports that have been around for thousands of years,” he says.

He has set up a high tech production facility in Puerto Rico’s oldest cockfighting ring, where the action is captured from different angles and the video transmitted over high speed fiber optic lines.

The site even features a slick documentary in English and Spanish. It shows how razor-sharp spikes are tied to the roosters’ feet before a fight and offers a history of cockfighting, including a list of famous fans, said to include George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.

Atkins fears that a 1999 statute outlawing the creation, possession or transmission of materials depicting animal cruelty could force him to block or shut down his cockfighting webcasts.

“Rooster fighting falls along the same lines as fishing and hunting.” — Jason Atkins

Atkins says his Marine training taught him to take the fight to the enemy, so he has filed a pre-emptive suit on First Amendment grounds challenging the law, which has already been upheld in one federal case.

Animal advocacy groups like the Humane Society oppose Atkins’s lawsuit. “The fact that animal fighting is permitted in other jurisdictions does not give anyone the Constitutional right to peddle animal fighting videos,” the society said in a statement published on their website. But some legal scholars say the Florida case has merit on constitutional grounds.

Atkins says the 1999 law was enacted specifically because of the proliferation at the time of so-called “crush videos,” sexual fetish clips in which women speaking in the tone of a dominatrix would crush kittens or other small animals with their heels.

In fact, President Clinton, who signed the law, instructed the Justice Department to narrowly construe the law to “wanton cruelty” associated with sexual prurience.

Atkins argues that there is no parallel between those kinds of videos and the cockfighting on ToughSportsLive.

“It’s ToughSportsLive’s opinion that rooster fighting falls along the same lines as fishing and hunting,” he says. “It’s funny that a human can kill an animal and it’s OK in the United States. But if an animal kills an animal it’s not OK.”

Bruce Wieland, of the Los Angeles office of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA), thinks Atkins is deluding himself.

Model Teresa Noreen says had she known ToughSportsLive also features cockfighting, she probably wouldn’t have participated in ‘Girls and Guns’.

“I would say [cockfighting is] essentially no different from the crush videos, except this is even more exploitative because it involves gambling,” says Wieland. “Essentially as far as the animal is concerned it’s the same deadly result.”

In the wake of the Michael Vick dogfighting revelations, which seem to have created a climate of zero tolerance for animal cruelty, Atkins faces a tough public relations battle — one he’s says he’s ready to concede if he loses his legal case.

“We’ve already made provisions within the website to be able to easily turn it on and off,” he says, “so in anticipation that it may be deemed illegal we’ll take it down.”

While that may mean cockfighting broadcasts would be blocked in America, it probably won’t end them elsewhere. Atkins says his company, Cloverdale Worldwide Limited, was created offshore in the British Virgin Islands just in case of issues like this one.

He also hopes to begin broadcasting bullfighting before the end of the year — that seems like good timing, now that Spain says it is dropping the national pastime from state television broadcasts for being too violent for children.

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