The confounding case of O.J. Simpson

4/18/2024, 6 p.m.
There are a lot of things in this country that can make some people reach their boiling point.

There are a lot of things in this country that can make some people reach their boiling point.

Sure, politics and religion are old standbys.

Case in point: The manic presidency and reelection attempt of Donald Trump are sure to create heated debate at many a barbershop.

But O.J. Simpson, perhaps, was in a class by himself. As the defendant in the so-called Trial of the Century, Mr. Simpson’s acquittal in the 1994 stabbing deaths of his former wife, Nicole Brown-Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman polarized a nation along racial lines.

Of course, Mr. Simpson, 76 — who died of prostate cancer last week — was African-American, and Ms. Brown-Simpson and Mr. Goldman were white. And as the emotional wave of the verdict rolled across the country, the inevitable happened — people took sides.

It went something like this:

• Many people were outraged that Mr. Simpson got off. Police had a motive, a bloody glove at his home that matched one found at the crime scene, cuts on Mr. Simpson’s left hand and both victims’ blood in Mr. Simpson’s car.

• Many others, on the other hand, paid particular attention to charismatic defense attorney Johnnie Cochran Jr., who cast doubt on tactics by the police. For instance, a preservative was found in some of the blood samples taken from the scene — meaning, according to the defense, it had been planted. Further, some Black folks, in particular, didn’t find it hard to believe that police, in their haste to convict Mr. Simpson, could be dishonest.

• It was Mr. Cochran who supplied a line for the ages when Mr. Simpson had difficulty putting on the bloody glove in court: “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

But race aside, why was this case so big, so scintillating? Plenty of celebrities had been in trouble — some even accused of murder. But this case, and the aftermath, generated books, movies, TV shows and studies.

To understand it, you have to understand the times and Mr. Simpson, who was a character straight out of Central Casting.

The Hollywood-handsome Mr. Simpson was hailed as perhaps the first real crossover star.

After a phenomenal football and track career at USC, the running back starred in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills.

The 6-foot-1, 212-pound Mr. Simpson was an anomaly. Blessed with world-class speed and uncanny moves, Mr. Simpson could run through or around defenders. And in 1973, he became the first running back in NFL history to break 2,000 yards in a season. He hit 2,003 by rushing for 200 yards in the last game of the season – in the snow.

The chiseled Mr. Simpson couldn’t lose. After football, he starred in movies and TV shows, Monday Night Football and, of course, the famous Hertz commercial. Who doesn’t remember the elderly white woman egging him on as he hurdled luggage: “Go, O.J., go!”

He had a good-looking wife and beautiful children and they all lived in the ritzy Brentwood area of Los Angeles.

Then, all hell broke loose. Surely, this Hollywood darling couldn’t have committed a crime so gruesome that it left his ex-wife almost decapitated. Or could he?

Over the years, there have been lots of theories about the case. It was a drug deal gone bad. It was a random crime. Mr. Simpson was still looking for the real killer or killers.

Or maybe it was as many people and the police believed: Mr. Simpson did it.

For those of us who watched and listened for evidence of Mr. Simpson’s guilt since 1995, we never got it. Mr. Simpson rarely discussed the case in public, save for the ill-fated book he wrote, “If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer” – which he claimed was a hypothetical look at the murders.

According to the media, there was no deathbed confession from Mr. Simpson, who reportedly had friends and relatives who came to see him in his final days sign NDAs.

In a letter that was released on the day of the famous slow-speed Bronco chase in L.A., Mr. Simpson wrote: “Don’t feel sorry for me. I’ve had a great life, great friends. Please think of the real O.J. and not this lost person.”

Maybe we’ll never know the real story behind Mr. Simpson’s guilt or innocence, but one thing certainly is true: It sure was one hell of a story.