O.J. Simpson, the story that keeps having to be told

By rough count, I suppose I have written more than 10,000 words on O.J. Simpson, most of them when he was a football player, one of the best, when twice a season he played for the team that played the team where I once worked.

Simpson was an easy interview, likable, quotable, eager. He returned phone calls. He initiated them, in fact. He took every question until there were no more to be asked. Of course, it was self-promotion but, hey, he played in Buffalo and chances were scant.

If that were the end of the story, Simpson’s death at age 76 would be noted and logged among the lists of aged athletes who briefly nudge a memory when they pass. Remember him? Oh, yeah, he was pretty good.

Grudging tributes can be found, and nearly all lament Simpson’s ruined legacy. Murder is hard to paper over. However bumpy the 30 years of Simpson’s life following that dark night in 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman remain ruined in the worst way possible, without life at all.

There is something about fallen heroes, more so than their fallen victims, that distorts normal humanity, and all the incidental industry created by that long ago Simpson circus is surely not over yet.

Simpson’s death is, to rephrase Gore Vidal upon hearing of Truman Capote’s demise, a good career move.

There are generations now who know nothing of Simpson either as a celebrated murder defendant or Simpson as a celebrated running back, but his trial took up a pretty good sports summer. The World Cup was in the U.S. Tiger Woods became the youngest winner of the U.S. Amateur. Arnold Palmer played his last round in a U.S. Open. Michael Jordan was out of sight, attempting baseball. The New York Rangers got their first Stanley Cup in 54 years, Pete Sampras was at his peak at Wimbledon, and Tom Treblehorn tried to appease Cubs fans by meeting them at the Waveland Avenue fire house.

The trial was appointment TV. It spawned books and miniseries, made momentary celebrities out of ciphers, and exposed divisions of race and society that still exist. All of this before social media.

I recall Simpson at the 1984 Olympics in LA where he was a TV hack covering track and field. He was as amiable as usual, joking with the press (almost entirely white) that because the track athletes were almost all black, he had to brush up on his street jargon. “I’ve forgotten how to talk to the brothers,” he said.

As he said, he was, after all, not black. He was O.J.

Yet for me, Simpson and soccer are joined together, not soccer’s fault I must point out. Soccer has enough sorrows of its own without the “ruined legacy,” of a tragic American hero.

Breaking O.J. news coincided with the opening of the World Cup at Soldier Field, Germany against Bolivia. I was seated in the press area next to a pal from the LA Daily News who kept getting updates from home, more interesting than the soccer game, I might add.

We swapped opinions about the Simpson we knew. I don’t recall my friend’s conclusion, but mine was: “He didn’t do it. He wouldn’t do it. Why would he do it? He couldn’t have done it. No, not O.J.”

Later, while I was filing my column about the soccer game, I was also watching a white Bronco crawling along an LA freeway.

I managed to fit in the NBA Finals and Wimbledon while Simpson’s story transfixed the real world and still was able to make it to the World Cup Final between Italy and Brazil (won 0-0 by Brazil) at the Rose Bowl before Simpson entered his plea of “absolutely 100% not guilty.”

For a column, I retraced the O.J. route when I was in Los Angeles for that World Cup final, Bundy to Rockingham, along the way ignoring neighborhood signs that advised: “Nothing to see here. Looky-loos go home.”

I wrote an O.J. column then and here I am doing it again. Maybe this brings the total to 10,719 words. I’ll keep counting.

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