The incredibly popular and often heartwarming Humans of New York Facebook photoblog posted the following on Tuesday, with the subject (photographed above) quoted as saying he participates in an “underground fighting league in Coney Island” run by “the Russians.”
“The Russians run an underground fighting league in Coney Island where they pay junkies to fight. I fought about fifty fights for them. They pay you $200 win or lose. They’d always make sure I was real doped up before the fight. I mean they weren’t good people but it did make me feel kinda important to have all those gangsters cheering for me. And they’d always be really happy if I won, because that meant I’d made them money.”
The post has received quite a bit of attention from Facebook readers in the Coney Island area of New York but, no one is sure of the verity of the story. A Coney Island local writes that it’s unlikely that there is such a clandestine club because the Russian community tends to be too gossipy as to not spill the beans on a so-called ‘junkie fight club.’
“There would be rumors. In all my years in this community I have never heard anything remote to this,” the reader wrote.
Ned Berke with Sheepshead Bites – a source that calls itself: Sheepshead Bay’s only independent news blog – asks, “Can anyone back this up?”
It’s a tale that might not be that far-fetched.
Remember the infamous “bum fights?” It was a series of videos that featured teenagers and homeless men in the San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas metropolitan areas fighting and attempting amateur stunts in exchange for money, alcohol, and other “rewards.”
The first video, Bumfights: A Cause for Concern appeared in 2002 and went on to spawn three sequels.
The videos were immediately criticized by human rights organizations, such as the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), which stated that Bumfights propagate hate against the homeless as well as dehumanize them.
Bumfights were at the center of many cases involving a number of violent teenage attacks on homeless people that were carried out by teenagers. For example, a group of teenagers in Nevada, who called themselves the “311 Boyz,” faced criminal charges, including attempted murder, after filming several violent acts that they said were inspired by Bumfights.
In April 2006, the four original filmmakers of Bumfights agreed not to produce any more of these exploitive videos and to no longer distribute already existing videos and were ordered to pay three homeless men who were in the videos. They were charged with both felony and misdemeanor charges and they were subjected to civil lawsuits, as well.
The videos have since been banned in a number of other countries, such as the United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand.
The filmmakers argued that the videos were mutually beneficial and that the homeless people involved had freely chosen to participate. But, given their desperate situation and the promise of money, it seems more coercion than choice. This raises the question of whether drug addicts and alcoholics could just as easily be exploited. When someone is addicted, they are extremely vulnerable to this kind of exploitation because they are so desperate to get their fix and therefore willing to do anything for it.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.