Our biggest problem in sports right now, and one that also pervades society at large, is that we demand perfection as if we believe it actually exists.

Social media has furnished us all multiple forums to air a hard-and-fast opinion about outcomes that wouldn’t have occupied our attention for two seconds, two decades ago.

Kalle Oakes

Eighteen thousand different camera angles are employed in a fickle and futile attempt to “get it right.” Then we still insist it’s wrong, because what we saw with our own four eyes on that 70-inch screen in our living room told us so.

Is it any wonder there aren’t enough qualified candidates to replace the ones who are saying “to hell with this” about the prospect of officiating our kids’ and grandkids’ games?

Saturday’s first-in-145-years disqualification of an apparent Kentucky Derby winner over an on-track incident (another horse, once upon a time, was dethroned for failing a drug test) was the latest evidence of this phenomenon.

I’m guilty as the next guy. My initial reaction was that taking away Maximum Security’s place in history for using a little too much track in the final turn was replay run amok, and an oh-so-2019 attempt to play the “gotcha” game.

It’s the same way I felt after a referee called the hip check on the player from Auburn and sent Virginia to the free-throw line for a gift-wrapped trip to the NCAA men’s basketball championship game. It is also how I would feel if somebody called that rare, two-minute minor for interference in Game 7 of a Stanley Cup playoff series. Certainly there are times when experience tells us the people in charge set the letter of the law aside and decide that no harm means no foul.

Let’s be honest, though: You, I and almost every other electronic rail bird paying attention this weekend, even if we’ve made our donation through a misbegotten quiniela or two at Scarborough Downs or Keeneland, are probably casual fans. Maybe watching the past 40-or-so Kentucky Derbies makes me more invested than are Baker Mayfield or some other celebrity in an ill-fitting suit, but I’m still Joe Fan.

That’s an important realization when we can humble ourselves long enough to make it. We’ve reached a point in America where reading a few articles within our echo chamber or simply being a consistent spectator makes us disturbingly comfortable with our expertise.

If you don’t believe me, go to any youth basketball game and listen to the many grandstand interpretations of traveling or the three-second violation. Or, worst of all, “over the back,” a phrase that, not unlike “separation of church and state,” has become ubiquitous without appearing anywhere in the rule book. The guys or gals wearing stripes or solid grays have a stronger leg on which to stand than every last one of us.

Likewise, when the chunks of mud settle and cooler heads prevail, I recognize that humans far better equipped than myself are deputized to deal with the finer points of decorum in the world’s most famous horse race. And again, in this volatile epoch of our republic, it is the ultimate damned-if-you-do-or-don’t assignment.

Those who wagered the multi-millions on Maximum Security and those who craved a wire-to-wire winner who would be a legitimate threat to win the third Triple Crown in five springs were predictably aghast at the final verdict.

Had the reverse been true, and had the officials upheld the outcome using the logic that the leader’s behavior didn’t directly impact the next thoroughbred in line, Country House, then all the do-gooders and authority worshippers who want everything in life to be “fair” would have staged a riot.

A day later, I accept that clinging to the letter of the law was the safe decision, even if it subjected the sport’s marquee event to 15 minutes of national ridicule. Because you know what would have been worse in that spotlight? Maximum Security’s subtle violation of the rules causing a major pileup that killed or injured multiple animals and/or jockeys.

We were razor-close to that level of mayhem, and with the government already sniffing around in the aftermath of 23 horse deaths at Santa Anita, that’s the last thing horse racing needed.

I don’t necessarily love the decision from a fan’s perspective, but yes, it is merely the gut reaction of a fan. Likewise, I’m not crazy about the way “targeting” or “a defenseless receiver” are adjudicated in football. But if those decisions help extend the lives of two sports that are a big part of my little world, I’m all for mostly accepting them with grace and moving on.

Saturday’s judgment call didn’t really affect my life one iota. A failure to make that call, however, might have — perhaps not now, but maybe in a jockey’s decision not to exercise due diligence down the road. Then what if our elected officials subsequently over-correct, and suddenly there is no Kentucky Derby?

In the immortal words of Bill Belichick, nobody died. We’ll watch again, even if we swear we won’t.

And when that happens, something will enthrall or outrage us.

Certainly outrage us. That is our default setting in 2019, after all.

Kalle Oakes spent 27 years in the Sun Journal sports department. He is now sports editor of the Georgetown (Kentucky) News-Graphic, about an hour from Churchill Downs. Stay in touch with him by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @oaksie72.

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