Confidence in fair play shaken when sporting events aren’t settled on the field

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As fans, we were disgusted when seven NFL referees missed a blatant and intentional pass interference, along with helmet-to-helmet contact at the end playoff game between the New Orleans Saint and Los Angeles Rams. If the officials did their jobs – make no mistake, it was ineptitude – New Orleans would have been in position for a short, game-winning field goal to win the game.

We then were sickened when the NFL later admitted to the gaffe – all while celebrating the Rams’ trip to the Super Bowl.

As fans, we were inspired to see Auburn’s run in the NCAA basketball tournament that included improbable wins against college giants Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina. And we were collectively disheartened when Virginia’s Ty Jerome clearly double-dribbled at midcourt in the final seconds. If properly called with two officials clearly watching the play, Auburn would have had a two-point lead and the ball with seven seconds remaining.

(Many fans also were upset by a foul called with six-tenths of a second to go that sent Virginia guard Kyle Guy to the line for three free throws. He made all three to send the Cavaliers to the Championship game, 63-62. The argument too often has been a close call shouldn’t be made at the end of the game. That’s wrong. If it’s a foul in the first minute, it’s a foul in the final minute. And it was a foul.)

But the foul shouldn’t have been a factor if the referees made the obvious double-dribble call.

In retrospect, apologies now are meaningless because they’ve become too routine and insincere.

Again, as fans we shook our heads when three NBA referees failed to call three fouls on the Golden State Warriors in the final two minutes in their playoff game against Houston. Steph Curry should have fouled out on either of the two missed calls, but given two extra lives, he wound up hitting a big 3-pointer down the stretch to wrap up Golden State’s 104-101 Game 1 victory.

NBA later admitted the mistake, but it didn’t change the outcome. Or our confidence in fair play.

Now, as fans, we were forced witness to another troubling decision during the stretch drive of the Kentucky Derby. Maximum Security clearly was the best horse, but his victory was taken off the board following a protest by two riders who felt he slightly drifted out of his lane coming into the final turn.

While I’ve covered the Florida Derby and Flamingo Stakes seven times each, I don’t profess to be an expert on thoroughbred racing. But I didn’t see anything that seemed so out of the ordinary it warranted such a dramatic response. And unless you had a 65-to-1 win ticket on eventual winner Country House, you probably didn’t see it, either.

After all, we’re talking about 18 half-ton animals running in ankle-deep slop at nearly 40 mph, all in a desperate gridlock to be the first to cross the finish line.

Unlike NASCAR, where rubbing is racing, humans, not horses, now determine the outcome.

Let’s be clear: I had no money or curiosity invested in the race. In fact, I didn’t watch it. I am, however, tired of being a fan and seeing a would-be a victory ripped away by outsiders who refuse to let the play on the field be the determining factor.

It’s just like elections. If you don’t like the outcome, investigate. If you don’t like the investigation, investigate the investigators.

Apparently if you get beat at Churchill Downs, an inquiry is as important as performance.

The Kentucky Derby could have been a much-needed diversion from the death of 23 horses in a recent three-month stretch at Santa Anita Park, as well as an industry-wide problem with excessive whipping, abuse and illegal drugs.

While some horse-racing experts said Maximum Security’s disqualification was proper since he drifted out of his lane. They also admitted that, just like offensive holding in football and traveling in basketball, it’s something that essentially could be called during every race.

What little integrity horse racing had – and it was very little in wake of the industry-wide abuse – now is gone.

Even winning trainer Bill Mott knows his winning horse’s place in Kentucky Derby history forever will be tainted, especially since his horse wasn’t involved in the inquiry and eventual disqualification.

“They’ll be talking about the result of this race from now until they run the next Kentucky Derby and the next 10 Kentucky Derbys and the next 20 Kentucky Derbys,” Mott said. “There’s always a lot of controversy in this sport, and we’re probably going to involved in it from now on. But you know, I’m going to take it.”

Unfortunately, like in so many other big moments in sports, fans now are forced to accept obvious missed calls that steals legitimacy of winning – and our confidence in fair play.

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