Dolores Gonzalez-Posada is a member of The Reporters Inc’s Advisory Committee. To learn more about her, click here.

Art, Sport or Savagery?

Spaniard Weighs Pros & Cons of Her Country’s Controversial Fascination with Bullfighting

June 2017

Editor’s Note: Since The Reporters Inc. published this article, the following has also happened:

 * For the second time in a year, a Spanish matador was killed during a bullfight. Ivan Fandino tripped on his cape in a southwestern France bullring and was savagely gored to death.

 * During the 2017 Pamplona “Running of the Bulls” in early July, no one died—but seven people were gored and seriously injured during the nine-day event.

 * In mid-July, Spain’s Balearic Islands voted to outlaw killing bulls in the ring, and made it also illegal for the animals to endure physical or psychological damage. (Traditionally, matadors try to drive a sword between the bulls’ shoulder blades and through the heart, to end each fight.) Days later, Spanish government leaders launched an appeal to overturn the law.

 * And on July 29, onlookers said a bull appeared to “commit suicide” at a festival in Valencia after its horns were set on fire while it was tied to a post. When the bull was let loose, it first ran away but then turned and dashed full speed ahead into the post, collapsing and dying almost instantly.



One year ago, in early July 2016, fighting bulls gored 11 people as thousands darted down a half-mile course of narrow, cobbled streets in Pamplona. It was the city’s annual nine-day “running of the bulls” event, a fiesta that dates back to medieval times and attracts participants from around the planet.

All 11 of the 2016 victims suffered serious injuries while countless others endured minor ones as the bulls (as they do every year) trampled and knocked over runners during the San Fermin Festival, which was broadcast live on Spanish television.

Over the past century, 15 people have died from gorings during Pamplona’s running of the bulls. Every year, between 50 and 100 people are injured. Also last year: in the southeastern Spanish village of Pedreguer near Valencia, a 28-year-old man was killed during another bull run. A bull’s horn pierced his lung and heart as he was trying to help a fellow runner during the event.

The running of the bulls ends when the bulls are waved in to a city bullring, where they’re ultimately killed by professional toreros (bullfighters) in an afternoon corrida (bullfight).  Last year, 29-year-old Victor Barrio, one of Spain’s top bullfighters and a household name in the country, was gored to death in the ring in the town of Teruel, during a fight that was also aired on live TV. Spectators, including Barrio’s wife, watched in horror as a bull rammed a horn through Barrio’s chest. He was the first Spanish bullfighter to die in the ring since 1985 (though dozens of others, and their assistants, are injured every year). According to The Arena: The World of the Spanish Bullfight, a total of 533 bullfighters have been killed in Spain since 1700.

As you might imagine, the running of the bulls and tauromaquia (bullfighting) have their detractors—many of them. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) calls the running of the bulls archaic and torturous. The group says the bulls break bones as they crash into walls, slipping down Pamplona’s streets. The League Against Cruel Sports says the bulls are “frightened with gun shots, electrocuted with cattle prods and kicked and hit by jeering spectators.”

And a recent PETA press release about bullfighting stated, “Imagine how the bulls must feel at the end of a bullfight when a sword is plunged into their necks, backs and bodies again and again until blood is pouring from their wounds and mouth. They’re terrified, they’re in excruciating pain and they don’t want to die. But they can’t run away. After falling to the ground from exhaustion and massive blood loss, they can only watch and wait as another knife rips into their spinal cord with the aim of killing them. Often, they’re still alive but paralyzed as they’re dragged from the ring by their horns and their tail and ears are cut off to be given to the matador. This is the experience of thousands of bulls every year, and there is simply no excuse for this suffering.”

Scan 2017-6-12 21.59.29Scan 2017-6-12 22.02.30 1Scan 2017-6-12 21.59.29 1

Images from a bullfight in Madrid, Spain

Scan 2017-6-12 22.02.30 2Scan 2017-6-12 22.02.30

I am a proud Spaniard, born and raised in Spain (and still live here today), and although I am not a bullfight supporter at all, the advent of this year’s annual Pamplona event (July 6-15) got me thinking about this controversial tradition.

Many people reject bullfighting without ever having seen one; they seem to think they know they’re not going to like it. Is it art? Is it sport? Is it savagery? It’s difficult to deal with bullfighting antipathy when it comes from those outside Spain; those from other cultures or countries who judge our customs or traditions without knowing their history aren’t greeted with much respect. For example, it’s difficult for us to understand why some people from the United States carry guns, why some in Muslim cultures cover their faces and bodies, or why some people in Asia eat dogs and rats. But one simply cannot judge other countries’ way of life without knowing all the facts.

The love of bullfighting for a lot of people in Spain (as well as many in the south of France, Central America and South America) is related to the notion of human domination over animals, as a way to show courage. The bull is 600 pounds of muscle, adorned with two sharp and pointed horns. They believe the bullfighter has only his brain and a cloth (and yes, a sword, of course) to battle it. One also has to consider the traditional southern European obsession with beauty. The bull is an amazingly beautiful animal, strong and powerful, and the way he and the bullfighter both move around the bullring creates a majestic aesthetic. Tradition in old Europe is also important; bullfighting is one notable way that helps us stand out from other cultures. In fact, during the military dictatorship era of the Francisco Franco era (1939 to 1975), bullfighting (along with flamenco dancing) was supported by the state and promoted as one of the few “authentic” traditions and identities of Spanish culture. This is a legacy that remains ingrained in the country to this day.

It’s undeniable that many artists, writers, philosophers (Spaniards and non-Spaniards: Goya, Picasso, Monet, García-Lorca, Hemingway, Ortega y Gasset, Vargas-Llosa, etc.), with immense cultural and sensibility levels, have supported and touted bullfighting over the years. Hemingway wrote: “Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honour.”

I have to admit that I, too, have found myself admiring a kind of beauty and nobility in the bull, its “estampa” (shape), the way it elegantly dances with the torero (bullfighter) on the sand–until the part when the animal is hurt and starts bleeding. The compassion I feel for the animal’s suffering is much larger than the beauty I admire.

Scan 2017-6-12 21.57.53

Protest graffiti outside a Madrid bullring; translated into English it reads: “Bulls Yes…Bullfighters No…Neither art nor culture…”


Bullfighting has been decreasing in importance and popularity over the course of the last few decades in Spain (recent polls show only about 19 per cent of Spaniards actively support bullfighting), and it’s even forbidden in some regions–banned in the Canary Islands and until recently, the Catalonia (a court overruled the northeastern region’s 2010 ban last October, calling bullfighting a cultural asset protected under the law).  In 2015, Madrid scrapped its longstanding subsidy to the oldest of the country’s 52 bullfighting academies, about 100,000 people marched in protest of bullfighting, and the European Parliament voted to prevent EU agricultural subsidies from being used to support Spanish bullfighting. In our 2016 elections, Spain’s animal rights party won a new record of support—285,000 votes (or 1.2 percent of the population)—after pledging to end bullfighting.

Still, I really dont think either the running of the bulls or bullfighting will ever be banned entirely in my lifetime. Even though outrage about animal suffering is completely understandable, and a value and sensibility that is growing even more so in younger generations, there are still very traditional segments of our society and country who maintain that bullfighting is indeed not just an art or a sport– but a right.


Dolores Gonzalez-Posada can be reached at



One person commented on "Art, Sport or Savagery?"
Feel free to join the conversation and leave a comment as well.

  • Joan Treppa says:

    I remember seeing brief footage of this ‘sport’ on a local TV station at a hostel during a trip to Spain in the mid 1990’s. My husband and I watched in horror as the matador escaped many close calls with the bull. We were incensed with how the spectators in the same room as us cheered them on in the same manner as if we all were watching a game of football! We were aware of the tradition of slaughtering the bull afterwards and we stopped watching well before the image of seeing either of their deaths became forever seared into our memories. We are still repulsed by this tradition.

Leave a Comment

Comments will be posted following administrative approval.

The Reporters Inc. is a proud member of the Institute for Nonprofit News, a consortium of more than 90 nonprofit newsrooms dedicated to serving the public interest. Our articles are syndicated and shared with hundreds of other media organizations, online magazines, top blogs, etc. Please send news, feature and investigative story tips and ideas to

Below you'll find links to previous articles, columns and commentaries published by The Reporters Inc.

October 2017 | By Kim Whiting / "Birth of a “Shooter” : Roots of Black Violence Can Be Found in a Community’s History"
October 2017 | By Carol Larson / "That’s so Soviet! : Authoritarian-style Governance Becoming the American Way? "
September 2017 | By Dr. Peter Karofsky / "The Bullies Are Back : Pediatrician Offers Tips To Help Kids Combat School Harassment"
September 2017 | By Jim McCleary / "Slop Bucket Full of Promise : Middle-Aged Realtor Starts Over As ‘Cater Waiter’"
August 2017 | By Tim Munkeby / "Revolutionizing Education : Former Teacher Has Five-Stage Blueprint For Change"
July 2017 | By Lynn Moiller / "Wrongfully Convicted, 42 Years Ago : Exonerated Maryland Man Spends Decades Trying to Rebuild His Life"
June 2017 | By Dolores Gonzalez-Posada / "Art, Sport or Savagery? : Spaniard Weighs Pros & Cons of Her Country’s Controversial Fascination with Bullfighting"
June 2017 | By Joan Treppa / "Reclaiming Lives : Midwestern Mom on a Mission: Bringing Justice to Wrongfully Convicted"
May 2017 | By Anna Bacciarelli / "Government-Created Revenge Porn : Journalist Blackmailed and Jailed for Investigating Corruption"
April 2017 | By Stacia Kalinoski / "Struggling with Seizures : A Former TV Reporter’s Battle to Beat Epilepsy"
March 2017 | By Kim Whiting / "African American Suicide : Why a 15-year-old Girl’s Death Should Raise Alarm Bells Among Black Parents"
March 2017 | By Dr. Richard Weiner / "No Country for
Sick Old Men : Doc Compares Obamacare with Trumpcare; Differences Are Concerning"

February 2017 | By The Reporters Inc. / "Trumptrotting : Voices around Globe Reflect on Trump Presidency"
February 2017 | By Melissa Suran / "A Casket in Cargo : Grasping Heartbreak of War During Flight Home with Fallen Veteran "
January 2017 | By Tim Munkeby / "Act or Hide? : Fictional "Will" is a Call to Action, A Relevant Tale for Changing Political Climate "
December 2016 | By Autumn Lubin / "The Color Blind Myth : Smacked in the Face with My White Privilege"
December 2016 | By Tim Munkeby / "The ‘U’ in USA : The Election Finds America Divided; Only Education Can Unite This Union"
November 2016 | By Devante Jax Wolfe / "When Evil Takes Over : Ongoing Murder Prosecution Against Missouri Man Ignores Facts, Lacks Evidence"
November 2016 | By Jerry Huffman / "Reform Battle Brewing : Mexicans and Muslims Among many Worrying About Impending Immigration Law Changes "
November 2016 | By Carol Larson / "The Art of Intimidation : Political Shift Ushers in Wave of Safety Concerns"
December 2016 | By Benee Smith / "Single & 40: : Two-Time Divorceé Finds Love Again—With Herself"
November 2016 | By Gary Donatelli / "Clearing Larry Floyd : Did His Police Officer Father Wrongfully Convict Him? "
October 2016 | By Jerry Huffman / "Reporter’s Notebook: : Echoes of One of World’s Most Repressive Regimes Heard in U.S. Campaign for President "
September 2016 | By Kent Greene / "Second Amendment Hijacked: : Mounting U.S. Gun Massacres Are Direct Result of Supreme Court’s 2008 Blunder "
August 2016 | By Lynn Moller / "What Katelyn Saw : When A Child Claimed to See Abuse at My Day Care, My Life Was Nearly Destroyed "
July 2016 | By Kim Whiting / "Molested & Raped: : Why Survivors Like Me Must Heal Through Forgiveness & Compassion"
June 2016 | By Rashanah Baldwin / "Yes, We’ve Got Crime : But Portrayals of Urban Neighborhoods as Hopeless Only Worsen the Problems"
May 2016 | By Audrey Edmunds / "An 11-Year Nightmare : Suburban Married Mom Wrongfully Convicted of 'Shaken Baby Syndrome'"
April 2016 | By Anonymous / "Our Long, Hard Fall from the Fortune 500 : Surviving the Great Recession Meant Complete Career, Life Reinvention"
March 2016 | By Kim Whiting / "In Search of Truth : Why Wrongful Conviction Claims of Some May Never Be Truly Believed"
February 2016 | By Kyle Kvamme / "From the Middle East to Middle America : The Power of Social Media Is Revolutionizing Social Change "
January 2016 | By Mari Grigaliunas / "Driving While High : As Legal Weed Grows, So Do Stoned Driving Concerns "
December 2015 | By Bill Natale / "1968 : Race Relations Nearly A Half Century Ago Mirror Today’s Headlines"
December 2015 | By Carol Larson / "Retiree Seeking Part Time Job : Why Can’t I Find A Good One?"
November 2015 | By Joan Treppa / "How I Became a Citizen Advocate : Wrongful Conviction of Six Wisconsin Men Captured My Attention, Changed My Life "
November 2015 | By Mark Saxenmeyer / "An Update on The Innocent Convicts : Crowdfunding & Grant Propel Production Forward"
October 2015 | By Tim Munkeby / "Angels & A-holes : Joy with the Generous; Run-ins with the Ruthless "
October 2015 | By Mark Saxenmeyer / "When Pictures Say Far More than One Thousand Words : Clinging to Hope, Even Though Justice is Nowhere to Be Found "
October 2015 | By Mark Saxenmeyer / "To Answer Your Question… : Here's How, And Why, I Created The Reporters Inc. "
October 2015 | By Jerry Huffman / "Me Thinks It Was Called “Life” : A Funny Thing Happened On My Way To The American Dream "
September 2015 | By A.J. Zender / "Can You Define Normal for Me? : There’s More To His Life Than A Wheelchair"
September 2015 | By Mark Saxenmeyer / "Crowdfunding “The Innocent Convicts” : Your Invitation to Become Part of Our Team"
September 2015 | By Emily Colosimo / "Cold Mornings and Deep, Stinging Cuts : Quest for a High Quality Education Keeps Getting Tougher to Find, Afford"
September 2015 | By Mark Saxenmeyer / "The Wrongful Conviction I’ll Never Forget : When Police Corralled a 10-year-old Boy Into Falsely Confessing to Murder"
August 2015 | By Kari Iverson / "I Need A “Real Job”? : Why A Cookie-Cutter Post Graduate Career Plan Isn't For Me"
August 2015 | By The Reporters Inc. / "The Director Behind “The Innocent Convicts” : Why Osagie Okoruwa Wants Justice For All"
July 2015 | By Jerry Huffman / "One Last Round : You Can Never Say Goodbye Too Soon"
July 2015 | By Daniel Morgan / "The Last Stage Manager Standing : From Behind the Camera Lens, A TV Vet Tells All"
June 2015 | By Tim Munkeby / "Wall Street “Beach” : From a Tropical Island: The Great Recession Explained Through Fiction"
June 2015 | By Kong Tsung-gan / "One Man’s Encounter: : Police Take Hong Kong's Pro-Democracy Crackdown to New Levels "
May 2015 | By Mary Van Haute / "Never Show Weakness : When Police Stay Silent About Stress, The Results Can Be Deadly"
May 2015 | By Wendy Holden / "70 Years Later : Babies During the Holocaust, They Were Born Survivors"
April 2015 | By Daniel D. Maurer / "A Suburban Teen’s Abuse : Victim of Sex Trafficking Reveals His 40-Year Secret"
April 2015 | By Ma Eliza Caliolio / "Get the Blade : Battling The Inner Voices That Encourage Self Harm "
March 2015 | By Deb Taylor / "Ageism : Why is it so Difficult to Value the Elderly?"
February 2015 | By Alexander Cain / "The Manliest Feminist : The Day That I Learned Gender Inequality Truly Does Exist"
January 2015 | By Ashley McMahon / "Out with Big Papers : Consumers Switching to Community News Sites"
January 2015 | By Bridget Birdsall / "“It Damaged Him.” : Knocked Down For Being Different"
December 2014 | By Kate Stein / "Gray Areas : The Language of Race Relations Isn’t Always Black and White"
December 2014 | By Joyce Mitchell / "World AIDS Day 2014 : No Time to Be Complacent; Survivors Face New Challenges"
November 2014 | By Kevin Vondrasek / "Luggage 101 : A Former Airline Bag Handler Reveals Tips For Hassle-free Holiday Travel"
November 2014 | By Vicki Kunkel / "Too Old to Get Hired? : Create Your Own Job Security"
November 2014 | By Mari Grigaliunas / "Searching for Nemo : A Community Rallies to Help a Struggling Teen "
October 2014 | By Richard Hopkins / "Keeping Cities Green : Perhaps a Trip Back in Time to Paris Might Provide Some Answers "
October 2014 | By Lori Aoki / "Kids and Sports : One Mom Asks, "How Much is Too Much?"
September 2014 | By John Marks / "Retirement Ripoffs : Beware of Those Who Pocket Invisible Profits"
September 2014 | By Nancy Pender / "PR Gone Bad : How to Master Your Public Relations Disaster"
September 2014 | By Elliot Granath / "Honduras to Arizona : On the Road With Struggling Migrants in the Mexican Desert"
September 2014 | By Michael W. Cutler / "Why is the U.S. Continuing to Ignore the Intersection of Immigration and Terrorism? : "
August 2014 | By Sophie Keane / "Waiting for Justice : Sex Assault Survivors Question Delays of 'Rape Kit' Evidence "
August 2014 | By Kong Tsung-gan / "Last Stand In Hong Kong : The Power of the Powerless"
August 2014 | By Jim McCleary / "A Medical Mystery : The Little Boy Who Can't Eat Anything"
July 2014 | By Tina Hallis / "Combating ‘The Nod’ : Valued Employees Critical For Building A Healthy Workplace Culture"
June 2014 | By Jerry Huffman / "Life After Stroke : A Journey to Reclaim Joy, Find Strength Hindered by Prejudice "
May 2014 | By Kate Stein / "Dacosta and Lewis : Helping the Homeless is Sometimes Hard to Do "
April 2014 | By Vanessa Nyarko / "Valuing Education : How My Grandma in Ghana Helped Me Reclaim My American Dream"
March 2014 | By Carol Larson / "The Retiree Revolution : 'Some Of Us Are Ticked Off'"
February 2014 | By Bénee Mickles / "Lessons from Splitsville : A Double Divorcée Dishes Up Heart-Mending Remedies"
January 2014 | By Tenzin Tharchen / "125 Self-Immolations : Why Suicide By Fire Protests Continue in Tibet"
December 2013 | By Timothy P. Munkeby / "What if? : Fighting doubt about decision to have kids"
November 2013 | By Kari Iverson / "Six Decades Later: : My Grandpa Reveals His Holocaust Secret"
October 2013 | By Melissa Suran / "Tenure Tyrants: : When There’s No Escaping Bad Teachers"
July 2013 | By Vicki Kunkel / "A Medical Myth? : Investigating Toxic Home Poisonings"
June 2013 | By Jim McCleary / "Society’s Going to Pot : Maybe Now I Can Get Some Rest"
May 2013 | By Anonymous / "Mother Reflects on Second Adoption : Am I Up for the Challenge Again?"
May 2013 | By Pirkko Tavaila / "If It Happens to Your Child : How Positive Energy Can Solve Bullying"
April 2013 | By Timothy P. Munkeby / "A Loving Legacy : Teach Kids Financial Literacy"
April 2013 | By Kamil Zawadzki / "A ‘Gen-Y’ SOS : Where Are Our Financial Gurus?"
March 2013 | By Kent Greene / "Note to Congress: : Consider Firearms Liability Insurance"
March 2013 | By Joan A. Peterson / "32 Homicides a Day : My Sister Was One of Them"
March 2013 | By Mark Saxenmeyer / "Letter from the President : Preventing Gun Violence"
March 2013 | By Derick White / "Father, Hunter, Gun Owner : I Can't Stop Thinking About an Answer"
February 2013 | By Mark Saxenmeyer / "Letter from the President : The Deep Sting of Loneliness"
February 2013 | By Donald Ross / "Where’s Opie? : Heartache in the Heartland"
January 2013 | By Mark Armburst / "Goal Setting in 2013: : Make Most Realistic, One ‘Big and Hairy'"
January 2013 | By Mark Saxenmeyer / "Letter from the President : So Much to Discover, Even in the Alley"