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Sir Richard Hadlee and the ethics of consent

December 31, 2013

Cricket fans were recently given an exhibition over during the Melbourne test match between Australia and England. Australian fast bowler Brett Lee challenged leading English media personality Piers Morgan to an over in the nets. This challenge came about after Morgan accused the English batsmen of lacking courage. Lee issued the challenge and Morgan gleefully accepted by suggesting that he was a man and up for the challenge.

At his peak Lee was the fastest bowler in the world, able to bowl the ball at approaching 100 mp/h (160km/h). So the challenge of an amateur (yet very outspoken) batsman against one of the greats of the game was intriguing. The intrigue was represented by the large crowd of people who gathered to watch this exhibition over.

The over was entertaining to many. Brett Lee peppered Morgan with many short pitched deliveries which were aimed at his body. He did deliver one ball which clean bowled Morgan, but all others were aimed at the body.

However not all were entertained. Former great New Zealand test bowler Sir Richard Hadlee was incensed. He labelled Lee’s antics as “dangerous and unnecessary”. He wrote an article for the New Zealand News criticsing Lee suggesting that he brought the game into disrepute. He said that ‘it was a deliberate attempt to hit, injure, hurt and maim his opponent that I viewed as a form of grievous bodily harm or a human assault that could have proved fatal’. Hadlee was also concerned over the impact this ‘exhibition’ would have over young people considering the game. (articles here and here and here)

Hadlee’s criticism of this action raises some interesting questions concerning the ethics of consent. Two adults, Lee and Morgan were consenting to this activity where fast, short pitched bowling was inevitable (given the nature of the original challenge i.e. lacking courage). And Piers Morgan himself didn’t criticise Lee’s tactics saying (on Twitter) ‘In all seriousness, I challenged @BrettLee_58 & urged him to bowl as fast as he liked. I’ve no problem with what he did, though my ribs do’.

Yet despite all of this, Sir Richard Hadlee still thought that the interplay was worthy of criticism. He felt that the act was dangerous, would turn people off the game and brought the game into disrepute.

I think that Hadlee’s response demonstrates a weakness in ‘ethics of consent’. I often encounter atheist ethical critiques (usually surrounding sex or pornography) as simply, well, if adults are consenting to do it – then it’s ok and who is anyone to criticize it?

Yet Hadlee’s outburst challenges this – simple consent does not necessarily make the act ‘right’ nor in the best interests of society. Hadlee felt he should interfere in an act performed by two consenting adults where he saw the act being detrimental to the greater good.

Ethical deliberations are often multifaceted and reducing them to merely ‘consent’ ignores many other important and relevant factors.

Hadlee’s outburst reveals a real tension between freedom and consequences. Sometimes in allowing full freedom (i.e. ‘consent’) may not always lead to the ‘right’ or most beneficial outcome for all.

There is always going to be disagreements as to what consensual acts should be condoned or not, but as Richard Hadlee has demonstrated, there is a place for a person who is not directly involved to make comment.

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From → Ethics

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