When OJ entered the National Football League as the first pick of the 1969 draft he was a Heisman Trophy-winning running back from USC (a traditional football powerhouse). In 1973 he won the league MVP and became the first player to rush for 2,000yds in a season. When OJ retired in 1980 he was the second highest on the all-time rushing list and was inducted into the Pro-Football Hall of Fame in 1985. Even his nickname, The Juice, ranks as one of the best ever.
He was a big star at a time when professional football was really taking off in America. His personality and big smile was a big hit with advertisers and OJ was destined for off-field stardom as well.
He had bit-parts and cameos in TV shows even before joining the pro-leagues including a role in Roots in 1977. His roles in the Naked Gun films didn’t bring critical acclaim, but didn’t hurt either.
Then came the 90s. The murder trial. The police chase. The gloves. The incredibly strange media frenzy. The Juice became a polarising figure; he was not only a high profile celebrity accused of murder; he was also a black man, and this was, after all, only three years after the LA riots. More than half the US population watched the verdict on live television. And even after his acquittal the opinion that OJ had “gotten away with murder” was mainly held by whites. And of course then the hunt for “the real killers” began.
OJ by then had become a strange character and icon. As I write this I’m struck by how many catchphrases have come from the trial: the real killers, trial of the century, if the glove does not fit… etc.
Later Simpson was found guilty in a civil case for wrongful death and was ordered to pay $33,500,000 to the Goldman family. As this is where the fall accelerated.
With all of his earnings going to Goldmans, Simpson started trying for more and more TV appearances, earning money from the murder. All this mugging and winking at the camera culminated in the book “If I Did It” in which Simpson wrote how he would’ve killed Brown and Goldman … if he had done it. Naturally, the book was cancelled not long after it was announced due a very loud chorus of “WTF?” from the general population (interestingly the book was later released by the Goldman family)
But the fall wouldn’t end for The Juice until this weekend when Simpson was found guilty of “masterminding” a robbery in Las Vegas. He was sentenced to 15 years in jail.
Yet, OJ still has his fans. They followed him on the Gridiron, they bought the orange juice he peddled and they bought his jerseys. Go to a Buffalo Bills game today and you will see throwback jerseys with #32 and “Simpson” on the back. These people want to remember the man who carved through defences like butter and made them proud of their team. Not the bizarre rambling man in the blue prison uniform.