When your favorite sportsperson hits the target on the field of play, do you ever stop to spare a thought? Why would anyone do so though when the only thing that appears to matter at that point is that their team is having the upper hand once again?
However, we must learn to spare a thought, in our moments of ecstasy and jubilation, for animals whose deaths are, in truth, the basis of the celebrations we now enjoy.
You doubt? What would football be without the round ‘leather’ ball? Or badminton without the rackets and shuttlecocks?
Since inception of sports, animals have continued to bear the brunt of the advancement the games now enjoy – with their by-products constantly processed for use in these sports.
It is interesting how many people still hold dear to fanatical religious beliefs of not wanting to touch some animals, because it has a history of uncleanliness, yet through the sports they love, they have probably transgressed these beliefs. It is well known that some sport equipment are indeed made with pig or dog skins, animals some faith adherents would rather refrain from touching, yet they touch the finished products. And we can’t blame anyone – sports is life.
How about the die-hard animal rights advocate who would stop at nothing to bring violators of animal rights to book, yet never stop to cheer, on the field of play, those who animal killings benefit? Harsh to call them hypocrites, but sports can make one less rational at times, and that’s the beauty of the games – we forget everything that divides us and cheer.
It is however possible that many of the people in the aforementioned categories are sincerely ignorant, and I won’t blame them. Not many people know that many of the equipment used in the various sports we watch on TV, in the stadium, sponsored with our money, are animal by-products. And maybe some know, but they just do not care. It’s just leather, and so…?
Why don’t we look at the relationship between animals and sports in detail so we can get to appreciate the impact of animals in modern sports even better? We will examine these sports one after the other and the items used which are derived from the slaughterhouse.
Game of FOOTBALL
BallsMaybe you have never noticed. There are so many footballs lurking around on the pitch, so much that when one goes the wrong way, another is quickly thrown onto the field. Now, consider how many stadiums there are and how many footballs exist out there.
One research posits that about 3,000 cows are slaughtered every season to make balls available in matches.
Originally, people used to think that footballs are made from pig skins. In reality, that was in the past when anything was used to make a ball, including a kid’s hide or a pig’s bladder. Today however, the NFL requires that football is made with ‘real leathers’, in other words, exclusively cow skin.
You may think, like me, that perhaps the 3000 figure is overblown and thus, not accurate. Perhaps, the researchers missed out on something. This led me to dig a little deeper and guess what I found?
Just one cow’s skin can make approximately 20 footballs. And that’s not all, you will be shocked to know that Wilson Sporting Goods, the official supplier of footballs to the NFL supplies about 700,000 footballs to the NFL every year.
If you do the Math, that means about 35,000 cows are sacrificed yearly by this company alone, just to ensure you and I have the best fun we can at the games. Perhaps, it is time for us to knight the cows and thank them for not being so cruel to refuse to die. If they do, we might be short of balls for our favourite football matches.
GlovesWhen a football goalkeeper makes a good save with his super adhesive glove and waves to the crowd, they would most likely cheer him for stopping a goal-bound shot with his hand. A sane keeper however would acknowledge that that feat might not have been possible if his gloves had not been a good one.
As much as we, sports fans, thank the human at the goal post, we must also not forget to spare a thought for the cow, pig or kangaroo that gave its skin away unwillingly.
Game of TENNIS
RacketsWhether it is court or lawn tennis, players of both sports use rackets to hit the ball back and forth. What many may sitting in the stands may not notice however is that at the head of the rackets is a large hoop, lined with strings in the middle, designed to bounce the ball back.
As fans cheer the players for good hits, a lot of them probably do not know that these strings that help launch the ball forward so fast and precisely is made from an animal byproduct called catgut.
Catgut is a cord that is gotten from the fiber which is found on the walls of animal intestines. Wait a minute, before you probably mix things up, the name of the byproduct does not imply that cat’s intestines are used in the process at all. Initially, sheep used to be the only source of catguts and this consequently led to an overwhelming demand in the market causing price to go sky-high, as the possibility of making strings from catgut caught the attention of sport industry.
Since then however, horses, cows, donkeys and mules have been considered, however goats and sheep remain the most preferred sacrificial lambs.
To date, despite the advent of synthetic strings, the natural gut is still widely used as a high performance string in making tennis rackets. This is because, in truth, the sport industry is yet to find a synthetic that is capable of delivering the same efficiency as a catgut and not only that, many players still rely, prefer and enjoy the power of the catgut because of their durability.
BootsHave you heard of “savethekangaroo”? Ever wondered what it means?
Every year, millions of kangaroos are killed, including a million baby kangaroos known as joeys. Some animal rights activists have tagged it the largest animal massacre known to history. Without doubt, sports shoe manufacturers are one of the biggest beneficiaries of this act.
As of year 2011, sports shoe companies still made boots using kangaroo skin. Usually, the profiles of the animals targeted by these companies are the biggest and fittest animals they can find and that is the red kangaroo. The boots made from this process are used in American football, soccer, rugby, etc. The continual use of kangaroo skin in shoemaking has made the animal endangered and on the brink of extinction.
The kangaroo, which was once a free animal is now classified as such because sports lovers like us have to be satisfied. While truly, these big sports companies are beginning to embrace synthetic products, there is still a long way to go to ensure that Kangaroos remain safe even as we do not walk barefooted on sports ground.
Game of BADMINTON
ShuttlecockShuttlecock is a light-weight object used in the game of Badminton. The shuttlecock is formed from about 16 to 18 thick feathers of duck or goose. In making this object, the feathers on a particular wing, either right or left are used because mixing the feathers from both wings would disturb the flight of the shuttlecock while playing and that is because the feathers on both wings are shaped differently.
The feathers can get brittle after all the processing and they tend to break during the game and they are replaced as many times as it is required until the end of the game.
So many ducks or goose are sacrificed to ensure feathers are derived just so the game of badminton can go. The process of feather plucking can be extremely painful. Try plucking some hair from your end, and see. Feathers are plucked from live ducks and goose causing unbearable and unspeakable pain to the animals.
In many parts of the world, the bird is usually held down, and then its fine feathers are pulled out. In many cases, this causes the poor bird to bleed since the shafts of each feather is filled up with blood.
Interestingly, sometimes, not all these feathers are eventually needed because experts only select white and lighter ones, discarded immediately others that do not meet this minimum requirement. Apparently, they cannot be refixed to the wings of the birds.
Research has shown that only six or seven feathers from each wing are needed because they cannot be mixed, as stated earlier. Shuttlecocks don’t last for very long so up to three dozen can be used. To put that in perspective that means about 54 goose or ducks are brutally made to go through excruciating pain to see through a match of badminton.
In Bangladesh, many natives have almost next to no compassion for animals. An editorial from one of the leading dailies in the country confirms this. It says:
“Entrepreneurs in Bangladesh are no doubt doing their best to diversify the country’s export base, and in some non-traditional items, they have been gaining success. A report quoting export promoting bureau officials shows that in the first quarter this fiscal, non-traditional exports figures to 4.26 million dollars compared to 2.61 million dollars July to September, 2001. The 63 percent increase registered in this category has been helped by the inclusion of some new non-traditional items in the export basket. Other non-traditional export items making a mark this year with increased foreign demands include tortoise, shark’s fin, salted fish, dry fish, crabs, and duck feathers. In three months of the current fiscal year, among others, the export volume of duck feathers was worth 0.37 million dollars.”
When badminton first started, it was called ‘hit and scream’ and that’s literally true because if you ask me, I would say for every hit that is made, one or two birds are probably bleeding and screaming away in agony. Spare a thought.
Game of BASEBALL
GlovesExcept for the flat plastics placed inside the glove as reinforcements, the glove is totally made of cow hide. As a matter of fact, there is a glove company in Texas that uses kangaroo leather that is shipped in from Australia, as well as leather from cattle for their gloves.
Kangaroo hide is somewhat soft, compared to cow hide, but because of its finesse, the two hides are both combined.
Ideally, one cow hide will make 3 gloves. This means that so many cows would be sacrificed if gloves have to go round the team. Glove companies have to compete for the best hide in the market and since demand is really high, more cows have to be slaughtered every day.
Moreover, since a cow hide cannot produce more than just 3 to 4 gloves, more cows are required when it comes to glove, making than balls.
Game of CRICKET
BallsYou would find cricket ball in every home today but have you ever looked at it from this angle; the more the ball, the lesser the cows we have?
I’ll explain why. According to Wikipedia, a cricket ball is actually made with a core of cork and is usually covered by a leather case. In a top-quality ball, ones usually used at the highest levels of the game, the covering is constructed using four pieces of leather. In making lower-quality balls however, only a two-piece leather covering is used.
While there are new developments in terms of production of synthetic balls, they are yet to be universally acceptable at professional level. What this means, therefore, is that leather-producing animals remain a huge contributor to success of the game of cricket.
GlovesMany, if not all, cricket players, at every level of play, wear gloves. Your guess is good as mine, like football goalkeepers, baseball players wear gloves because they help in improving the quality of grip, preventing painful and uncomfortable blisters on the palms and fingers and they reduce warmth. Without doubt, maintaining a tight and controlled grip is essential to successful hits.
However, do you know that the much celebrated cricket batting gloves have history with animals? Yes, they do. A typical batting glove is made of a leather palm and its back is made of nylon or another synthetic fabric. Now, you know. So, when next you wear that glove and you feel comfortable in it, remember that you are riding on the support of one animal. Don’t jinx it!
Batting PadsBatting pads in the game of cricket is a must for any batsman. This is because it is the first line of defense against the cricket ball, which can hit the lower part of the legs and cause serious injuries. Who would believe that for a long time, leather – obviously, an animal by-product – has been the major raw material used to make cricket batting pad?
Thankfully, it is now being replaced by long lasting low priced synthetic plastic material that, though lighter in weight, is equally as impressive as the previous traditional cricket pads.
Game of Shooting BallThe ball required for this sport is a solid one. One that is fully leather-sophisticated. Good news though; since this game can be played both indoors and outdoors, a cloth ball will do the job and if you decide to take the fun party outside, you can use a synthetic ball, so, we all can cut these animals some slack.
Despite the recent advent of synthetic materials in the making of sports equipment, there are still very many companies and sportsmen who still greatly prefer natural animal hide, regardless of the effect it has on animals in the game of shooting ball.
The boots used to play football, tennis shoes, gloves used for boxing, ballet slippers, baseball cleats and mitts, all these are made from animals who do not even get to make a choice for themselves.
There are arguments that the animals that these hides are ripped off from are already dead, but this is not always true. In the case of the shuttlecock, these poor birds have to withstand the pain of their feathers being plucked off while they are still alive before they are finally killed for other purposes.
If you have never respected animals or have always seen them as a little lower, I hope this article makes you see that even they should be treasured. As perhaps, more than most indigenous companies, animals have played a huge role in ensuring our sports go on. Indeed, some even give more than many humans would ever do just to ensure we remain happy; they are the real sports fans. Whether they do what they do willingly or not, is an argument for another day.
Let us know what you think in the comment section below.