It’s an ethical question, not a legal one, and I want your opinion.

What do the Grand National Steeplechase and a weekly New York Times column on ethics have to do with each other? And why should we care?


The 125th Grand National was run over four-and-a-half miles and 30 monstrous fences at Aintree Racecourse near Liverpool, England, on Saturday. Forty horses faced the starter; only 15 managed to finish the grueling race. Two horses, including this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup winner and early Grand National favorite Synchronised, were euthanized after falls. Those deaths brought the number of equine fatalities in the Grand National to a dozen over the last 10 years.

A couple of weeks earlier, in the Magazine section of the Times, Ariel Kaminer’s column, The Ethicist, fielded a question about the ethics of watching professional football. The inquiry was sent in to the column by a reader who wondered whether it was ethical even to watch football, given the growing amount of evidence that players run the risk of serious brain injury or death from collisions with each other. A bothersome implication of being a football fan, apparently, is that watching the games each week amounts to an implied endorsement of an unnecessarily dangerous activity.

Kaminer interviewed Michael Gladwell, one of the leading researchers investigating the dangers of concussions in football playersÑand, somewhat surprisingly, a football fan. Gladwell likened watching the games to being a fan of gladiator combats. He speculated that in 15 years, “no