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A Controversial Life & Legacy

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OJ Simpson passed away on April 10 at the age of 76. The former football star, who was acquitted during the so-called “trial of the century” in 1995, had been suffering a lengthy battle with prostate cancer, which included multiple rounds of chemotherapy. Months before his passing, Simpson uploaded a video to social media responding to rumors that he was in hospice care as he struggled with cancer. In the video, OJ Simpson laughed and assured his followers that he was not in hospice care and that his health was of no concern.

Undoubtedly, OJ Simpson’s life and legacy are highly controversial, largely overshadowed by his 1995 trial, where he faced accusations of committing a violent and gruesome double homicide. Despite Simpson’s acquittal, the general public has persisted in viewing him as a murderer for the past 30 years, and subsequent civil trials have reinforced his connection to the deaths. As a result, there have been a wide array of responses to the announcement of the football champion’s passing. Let’s take a look back at OJ Simpson’s life and career.

OJ Simpson was born and raised in San Francisco, California in 1947. OJ and his family lived in low-income housing projects throughout his childhood, exposing him to poverty and gang violence from a young age. As a teenager, OJ ran with a street gang known as the Persian Warriors until he was persuaded by youth councilors and baseball star Willie Mays to pursue sports as a means of securing a more lucrative future.

Simpson played football throughout high school, though his poor academic performance prevented him from receiving a full scholarship to college. Still determined to make it out of the slums, Simpson enrolled at San Francisco’s City Community College, where he continued to hone his skills as a running back and defensive back. His college performance on the field was so strong that several schools reached out to recruit OJ, leading him to transfer to USC. By his senior year in 1968, OJ Simpson earned some impressive accolades, including a Maxwell Award, a Walter Camp Award, and even a Heisman Trophy.

OJ Simpson spent 11 seasons playing in the NFL, the majority of which were with the Buffalo Bills. His field records provided national attention and saw him inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. By the time OJ retired in 1979, he was the only player in NFL history to rush over 2,000 yards in a 14-game season and remains the only player to rush for over 200 yards in six games. While his NFL career was ongoing, Simpson began acting in Hollywood productions, making him one of the most recognizable and revered figures in pop culture and entertainment. OJ Simpson starred in dozens of film and television placements, including The Towering Inferno, Roots, 1st & Ten, Frogmen, and many installments in The Naked Gun film franchise.

1995 Trial

If you’re under the age of 40, you likely know OJ Simpson best for his role in the landmark murder trial that stunned the nation. In June of 1994, OJ Simpson faced accusations of violently murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown, and her friend, Ron Goldman. Following the issuance of a warrant for his arrest by the Los Angeles police, Simpson attempted to flee in a white Ford Bronco driven by his long-time friend and former teammate, Al Cowlings. Simpson positioned himself in the back of the car with a gun to his head, threatening suicide if the police attempted to apprehend him. This moment was extensively televised, even interrupting coverage of the 1994 NBA Finals broadcast.

From there, the media circus surrounding the trial only grew, with some calling the event “the trial of the century.” Prosecutors presented DNA evidence indicating OJ Simpson’s presence on the night of the murder, along with a long-documented history of abuse that Nicole Brown had endured during their marriage. The defense, spearheaded by a team of lawyers including Johnnie Cochran, contended that corrupt and racist police officers had compromised the crime scene. Officer Mark Fuhrman, in particular, faced accusations of using racial slurs, as recorded on tape. He was later charged with perjury for falsely denying the use of these slurs while under oath.

Because of this, the trial quickly caused a racial divide within the United States, with media outlets reporting that Black people were significantly more likely to believe Simpson’s innocence due to the robust history of corruption surrounding the LAPD. The situation was further intensified by the Rodney King race riots in Los Angeles, which had rocked the community just a few years earlier.

In a shocking verdict, the jury found OJ Simpson not guilty of the murders. Over 100 million nationwide tuned in to watch the verdict announced via television and radio. No additional arrests have occurred in connection with the murders, and despite Simpson’s claims of innocence over the past three decades, most Americans still believe he is guilty. A few years after the initial trial, the victims’ families brought a civil suit against Simpson, finding him liable for the murders of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman. Consequently, the court ordered him to pay out millions to the Goldman and Brown families.

As a result of the verdict, OJ Simpson was subject to scrutiny from the media and authorities, such as the FBI, for the rest of his life. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Simpson faced a slew of investigations, including allegations of money laundering, ecstasy possession, and road rage violations. In 2007, authorities convicted him on charges of kidnapping and armed robbery, sentencing him initially to 33 years in prison. He benefited from an early release program and returned home in 2017.

OJ Simpson’s Memory

Following the announcement of OJ Simpson’s death, the public reacted with mixed feelings. Neither the Buffalo Bills, San Francisco 49ers, nor USC issued any public condolences for OJ’s passing. Public figures such as Caitlyn Jenner and Stephen A. Smith have weighed in, with the latter stating OJ was “One of the greatest athletes we have ever seen… But it all pales in comparison to him being perceived as a double murderer.”


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