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Is Championship controversy the new norm in sports?

by J.W. Miller on 05/06/19

As a wordsmith of sorts, I have always felt gratified when sporting events improve our vocabulary while inflaming our passions. As proof, I offer a word that most of us never used and some of us never had heard of until recently. The term? EGREGIOUS! It is a phrase that New Orleans sports fans learned a few months ago after the now-infamous no-call cheated the Saints out of their second Super Bowl appearance. Since that time, the term has become such a staple down here that it has entered our daily lexicon. 

A bad meal at a local restaurant is no longer “not fit for pigs” but is now an EGREGIOUS representation of the culinary arts. When my son reported a “D” on a test he had taken at UNO, it was no longer enough for me to rant and rave but to calmly inform him that his effort was an EGREGIOUS example of wasted study time. And when poor Mick Jagger opted out of this year’s Jazzfest in order to save his own life, I am certain that some patrons who stood in long lines to pay high prices to see the Stones cared less about Mick’s health issues than his EGREGIOUS abuse of the New Orleans music scene. 

The word rose again on Saturday when Maximum Security’s apparent victory in the Kentucky Derby was taken down. A rival jockey’s objection turned into a 22-minute inquiry and ultimate disqualification. “I think this is the most EGREGIOUS disqualification in the history of horse racing,” said Maximum Security’s co-owner Gary West, “and not just because it’s our horse.”

Let me insert here that I believe the ruling itself was a fair one. Bill Mott, the trainer of eventual winner Country House, said if the same incident had occurred in “the third race on Wednesday,” the stewards would have DQ’d the offender in about one minute. But this was a Kentucky Derby that occurred at a time when horse racing is under increased scrutiny. Safety issues for both horses and jockeys have come to the forefront in recent months, including a series of unexplained horse deaths at Santa Anita park in Southern California. 

The industry has re-examined practices such as the use of whips and the administration of Lasix, a diuretic that causes excessive loss of fluid. The owners of the three Triple Crown tracks have announced an initiative to phase out race-day medications. On the track, if one horse veers in front of another and causes a calamitous chain reaction behind him, which very well could have happened Saturday, it could have been more than egregious. It could have been a disaster. 

Still, West’s reprise of the word characterized the current state of controversial finishes to high-profile athletic events. West’s meaning was not lost on New Orleans fans and also those from all parts of the sporting provinces. Auburn basketball fans watched in disbelief as a missed double dribble set up a game-winning shot that missed but drew a controversial foul call. Virginia hitthe shots and the Tigers lose the NCAA men’s championship. Other words like “infamous” and “travesty” were thrown about afterwards but the controversy itself was an EGREGIOUS ending to a beautiful game. 

In Las Vegas, a blown call in a Game 7 National Hockey League playoff game gave San Jose an unlikely victory over the Golden Knights. With the Knights leading 3-0, referees handed out a 5-minute major penalty on a hard check, giving the Sharks the chance to score four goals on the ensuing power play and eventually win 5-4 in overtime. The NHL office later apologized to Las Vegas for that EGREGIOUS call. 

So is this what sports has become? Can we now expect every championship to come down to blown calls, missed fouls or replays that take away apparent championships? Will the upcoming NBA championship game be marred by controversial calls or mistakes by officials? Will the next three golf majors this summer be determined by fouls or pace of play penalties?  Will Game 7 of the 2019 World Series turn on a controversial out call or disputed catch? 

God, I hope not. Any or all of those would lift EGREGIOUS to a whole ‘nother level. 

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