Muscle Sport Magazine

Mike Tyson PETA Pigeon Racing Probe for the Birds

It is not too often that sports and politics get mixed together (at least in MuscleSport Mag), but in this case we must make an exception. Both PETA and the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office are wasting their own and the taxpayer’s money by making an issue out of Mike Tyson’s soon-to-come pigeon racing reality show “Taking on Tyson” on Animal Planet. It is crystal clear that they are merely doing this to break the former heavyweight champions’ balls because he has made a habit of getting into trouble nearly as often as he did knocking opponents out in the first round.

The show brings the world of homing pigeon races, a long-time tradition in the borough of churches, to the small screen. The men involved in the various racing clubs around Brooklyn tend to place wagers on their birds, but we are not talking about a large bookmaking operation like what takes place every weekend during football season. What is more important than the few bucks made by the men are the large trophies they get when their flock finishes first, so just let your imagination run wild and figure on the size of the pot we’re talking about.

I know this first-hand because I was raised in a household run by a pigeon racer. My father – the most inspirational man in my life – was involved in the game long before I was born 42 years ago and my brothers and I were assigned the duty of taking care of the pigeon coop when my parents were away on vacation. As a child, I would spend lots of time with Dad up there (the coop was hand-built by him on top of our detached garage in Brooklyn) and have him explain to me all the ins and outs of the pigeon game. To this day when I see one of these birds flying around the city, I can tell you which one is a Blue Bar or a Checker. He also let me in on the secret that was the small bets they would make and the good natured trash-talking that went on in their storefront clubhouse on 63rd street off of Bay Parkway.

So when I first heard about this Tyson/PETA/DA nonsense, I had a quiet laugh and thought back on not only my childhood, but also the fact that Tyson – himself a Brooklyn-born man in his 40s – has been involved in pigeon racing for decades and practiced it when he was living in the Catskills with the late Cus D’Amato. For all the bad steps that he has made since those early and innocent years, isn’t it refreshing to see ‘The Baddest Man on the Planet’ doing something positive for a change?

But the dramatic members of PETA felt the need to notify Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes – a man who has made his bones by going overboard prosecuting high profile defendants for self gain – that Tyson is violating New York’s anti-gambling laws not only in the friendly wagers that are usually placed on pigeon races, but the salary that he will garner from the show, one that is based on racing.

If that didn’t sound ridiculous enough, the fact that a representative from Hynes’ office said, “We’re looking into it” multiplies the nonsensical aspect of this entire escapade. On PETA’s website, the following appeared about pigeon racing:

“Considering its inherent cruelities, there’s no question that pigeon racing should be illegal. Birds who are forced to race often struggle to survive extreme heat, hail and thunderstorms, dodging both predators and cruel humans through grueling races that can be as long as 500 miles. Those who somehow do not succumb to exhaustion or injury and make their way home may still have their necks wrung by unsatisfied trainers.”


I suppose that these do-gooders have never seen pigeons surviving in the ‘wild’ making perches under the ‘El’ and other overpasses throughout the five boroughs. Commonly – and wrongly, in my opinion – called ‘rats with wings’ by the residents of our great city, pigeons have somehow managed to survive throughout the summers and winters without proper shelter or food. I can’t speak for every pigeon aficionado out there, but the birds in my father’s care were treated well.

Don’t get me wrong – I love animals very much and there are many things that are done to them by the vermin of society that turns my stomach. I am the proud owner of two beautiful dogs and those animal cruelty commercials make me wish that I could have five minutes alone with the perpetrators who did harm to those innocent little cats and dogs. My sensitivity does not waver when it comes to other animals, such as birds, for instance.

So while I do agree with PETA’s intentions, I have to disagree with what has become overkill in their methods. For all the positive things that they do, they lose the average Joe (in this case, Joe Pietaro) when they portray pigeon trainers in the same light as animal torturers, taking advantage of their natural talent to find their way back home over far distances. What PETA does not see is the day-to-day contact between the birds and their owner, the nurturing and friendship that they foster with their flock.


Is it a coincidence that this story has been plastered all over the tabloids and Internet today? Absolutely not, and PETA knows just how to play the media to bring attention upon themselves. I, as a member of the media, have many questions that of course they will answer predictably and safely.

Are they just doing this because Tyson is a public figure and an easy target? Where have they been for all of these years when guys like my dad were the ‘law breakers’ in their opinion? Did they pounce on this story because it was an automatic attention-getter with Tyson involved as opposed to Jimmy P?

Being the nice and fair guy that I am, I will send this article to PETA and give them a chance to reply. I had no problem with them protesting Michael Vick because what he did was totally inhumane, but this Tyson case is taking it a bit too far. This is merely a publicity stunt on their part and all the ‘save a pigeon today’ talk will not change that.

So how about it, PETA? I welcome any and all responses. My dad will get a kick out of all of this when I tell him about it.


  1. Joe Pietaro

    March 23, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    I received the following reply from PETA:

    Hello Joe,

    Thank you for contacting us. Please find the below response from PETA’s President Ingrid Newkirk:
    The very critical difference between watching and appreciating free-roaming pigeons and forcing pigeons to race is that racing deliberately puts the birds at risk. What some call a “game” is only a game for humans—it is a matter of life or death for the birds. You can’t pretend otherwise. I remember years ago when I first found a banded pigeon. I recall how excited I was to let someone know that this poor bird, who was half-starved, was now in good hands. I remember the shock of being told, “We don’t want him. He’s a loser. You can do what you want with him. We’d wring his neck when he came home.” Since pride and profit are often the most compelling factors in pigeon racing, owners have little use for those who can’t or won’t win.

    That was in Maryland. A couple of years ago, I found another banded bird on the seafront in Brighton, England. We’d had a tremendous storm two days earlier, and it was a bitter winter. This pigeon was huddled, almost frozen, and was too weak to fly. She had made it across the water—barely. I’m sure not all the pigeons released at the same time had been so “lucky.” Considering that pigeons mate for life and are wonderful parents, how could anyone have dared consider risking and losing these individuals’ lives in a “game”?

    Not only are pigeons who are forced to race released to take their chances in bad weather, they must also attempt to avoid both wild predators such as raptors (while crossing unfamiliar land and water) and cruel humans who are intent on trapping and shooting them. PETA has no mandate to fight gambling—we fight cruelty. But we will use any hook that we can get to stop inhumane treatment, and wagers that are placed on these birds often violate state gambling laws.

    PETA also knows that birds are given plastic eggs, a technique that is used to fool a female bird into believing that she is nurturing an unborn chick. The theory is that she will race her heart out and go that much faster to get back to her egg. How humane is that?

    PETA’s job is to protect animals, and it’s natural to expect that Taking on Tyson will have a 101 Dalmatians–type effect. Many of the boxer’s fans will acquire birds on a whim and, as quickly as they get them, will tire of the idea of racing them. Animal Planet is doing pigeons a real disservice by airing this show and is sentencing countless birds to a dismal future.

    Our knowledge of who animals are—of who pigeons are—has come a long way since Mr. Pietaro’s father kept birds in coops on the top of his garage. I once wore fur and ate birds, including squabs, without a thought. But we learn, and we evolve. Pigeons bring beauty to our concrete jungles. They deserve to be left in peace.

    Kind regards,

    Jaime Zalac
    Media Liaison
    People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
    1536 16th St NW
    Washington, DC 20036
    Ph: 202-540-2199; Cell: 202-384-4920; After Hours: 202-540-2199
    F: 202-540-2206

    Which I responded with:


    I appreciate your reply, but I would like to ask you a few questions pertaining to this matter.

    I am not sure of you read the article I wrote or not, but I am also an animal lover and do not want this to come across as an attack on PETA. I truly believe that the work your organization does is very noble and has made a difference, but have to disagree with some points in this instance.

    *Even if the main objective is to protect the actual bird, by PETA making an issue of the nickel and dime wagering that occurs between the men involved and contacting Mr. Hynes in regards has an effect on belittling some of your well-placed intentions. Even when used as an arm for your ultimate goal, the average person will view this tactic as a ‘reach.’

    *If Mike Tyson was not involved in this project, would PETA have been as zealous in their pursuit? It smells like a media ploy to me for publicity and being a part of the media who has utilized this tactic, I feel that I am correct in that estimation.

    *Because of that one person who was contacted and gave a totally inexcusable response, all pigeon trainers should not be painted in the same picture.

    I also feel that it is a stretch to assume that because Tyson is on TV racing pigeons, his few remaining fans will run out and take up the hobby – one that is extremely time consuming and can become quite expensive. Coupled with the space needed to house the pigeons, I do not see adults (teenagers of today are not Tyson fans) running out and becoming pigeon owners for the purpose of racing.

    I just feel that your cause would be better served if produced in a different format. Tyson being an easy target and a magnet for headlines is too coincidental in my opinion. But I appreciate your response and wish you all the best of luck in the future in your endeavors. -Joe

    Joe Pietaro
    Owner & President
    MuscleSport, LLC
    (631) 948-5381

  2. ty k

    July 15, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    Joe, your reply to PETA’s response smacks of someone who himself is “reaching,” arguing for its own sake in a vain attempt to not lose the argument.

    If you truly were as involved with your father’s coops as you contend, surely you can’t honestly sit there and claim that all the pigeons were always treated humanely. Besides the dangers pointed out by PETA, pigeons in densely packed coops will kill each other fighting for food (Tyson himself has admitted to this). Even for someone who purports to love his pigeons, not all of his pigeons will receive the same level of “humane” treatment.

    Your father may have been a great father to you; however, this by itself does not make him a great human being. A person who is loving and generous with his family and friends could be heartless and cruel to others, human or animal. I am not suggesting that this applies to your father; nevertheless, his upbringing of you and your fondness for him does not make him a saint, any more than your love of your two dogs makes you a crusader for animal protection/rights.

    In this misguided country, where corporations rule, corporate media is used to brainwash its ignorant masses into perceiving consumer groups, environmental groups, civil rights groups, animal rights groups, such as PETA, etc., as “terrorists.” Shallow people buy this hook, line, and sinker. Please don’t be yet another shallow ignoramus.

    Is PETA perfect? Of course not. But, without groups like PETA, animals would be suffering even more than the grotesque amounts that they already do.

  3. Joe Pietaro

    July 15, 2010 at 9:01 pm


    Thanks for your input. I always welcome comments, regardless of the direction they are coming from and facing. I will never waver from that.

    Even with that said, I have to disagree with you on some of your points (isn’t that what makes this country so great?).

    My father is great – period. That is also something I will never waver from.

    You say that I am arguing for the sake not to lose the argument. I will take that as you admitting that I won it already. Thank you for the support.

    My main point to PETA was that they were taking advantage of the situation because it was Tyson, and that they did have some pair of balls to bring the wagering into it. That’s a total reach and a joke – regardless if you’re a right or left winger.

    I will make an educated guess and say that you subscribe to the latter. I’ll take the guessing out when it comes to myself and proudly admit that I shoot from the right.

    I never thought that PETA was a “terrorist” group (although there may be some others that can fit that description) and have previously stated that their intentions are in the right place. If they went about it a but differently, then they would get more support – from lefties and righties alike.

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