On the Ethics of Public Urination During the New York City Marathon

A remarkably large number of New Yorkers have finished the New York Marathon. There’s a good chance you’ve done it once. Almost everyone knows somebody who’s crossed the finish line.

Yet it’s still regarded as an accomplishment of almost heroic proportions, which may explain why there is a disconnect between certain aspects of Marathon behavior and what we normally consider acceptable. On any other day, peeing in a public place is normally an offense that can get you a fine, if not a trip to the precinct house. Yet for some reason, it seems totally acceptable to us. You could be guilty of violating public urination laws while running in the New York City Marathon, and yet you’ve never thought twice about it.

There could be a good question in here somewhere for Randy Cohen, ethicist on call to NPR and the New York Times.

How could this disconnect exist? Does advertising play a role? Corporate marketing has clearly shaped our perception of what the Marathon is all about. As noted, tens of thousands of runners finish marathons each year, yet this particular road race has been transformed into a Celebration of Personal Achievement, mainly in the service of selling products, including sport shoes, socks and shirts, sugary “performance” foods, painkillers, and a wide variety of investment products. Are we cutting these heros too much slack? There are urinals strategically located all along the marathon route–is public urination really a necessity, or an attempt to shave a few minutes off the the finish time?

This ethical dilemma becomes very real just after the 7-mile mark in the ING New York City Marathon, as noted on Chubsucker.com: “…Runners passing through Park Slope, Brooklyn, on 4th Ave. are treated to a Poland Spring-sponsored water station … a vacant lot perfect for a quick piss is just one block away. This impromptu public urinal served many runners well today.”

The author continues: “Incidentally, I got into a mild argument with another spectator who scoffed my photographing this spectacle. He said it was disrespectful of me to take photos of their private moment. I asked if it was any more disrespectful than pissing on the side of someone’s house. And what makes this such a private moment?” Read more…

Work through this: Park Slope Message Boards

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