Watching one of my childhood sports heroes graveling on camera to a judge in a rambling manner recently as he was about to be sentenced for armed robbery and kidnapping was eerie, to say the least. Obviously this was not the first time that seeing OJ on TV gave me an eerie feeling; however, I hope it is the last.
It is a shame that one of the most exciting and best running backs (players, for that matter) in both college and NFL football history, will go down in history not for being a famous football player, but instead for being infamous due to his criminal exploits.
A shame? Yes. Unfair? Heck, no. OJ’s negative reputation and pariah-like existence over the last 15 years is richly deserved. His despicable and embarrassing behavior saw to that.
I was born in 1959 and since I was born (my parents tell me) I was a football nut and quickly became a Paul Hornung (the original “Golden Boy”) and Green Bay Packer fan. I saw Gale Sayers run and I was hooked on sports and watching exciting running backs run. (I now tape any Vikings’ games that happen to be on TV on my DVR even though I am a Packers fan just so I can watch Adrian Peterson (the second coming of Gale Sayers) run.)
Shortly after I saw Sayers run for the first time (1965), OJ broke onto the scene electrifying college football fans while he was winning the Heisman Trophy (he still holds the record for the largest margin of victory) at USC. I would watch OJ run with my father in our home in Rochester, New York, which is about an hour from Buffalo.
Lo and behold, the Buffalo Bills get the first pick in the draft and pick and sign OJ. Better yet, all of the Bills games are on TV every Sunday in Rochester on NBC (the AFL/AFC channel at that time). OJ struggled the first three years with a lousy team, a lousy offensive line, and most importantly, a lousy coach who could not figure out how to properly use OJ.
Along came Lou Saban as the new coach and OJ’s football magic was reborn. Every Sunday for the next five years (until an injury in 1977) “The Juice” mesmerized football fans everywhere and became the media darling of the league. OJ’s amiable persona, charisma, and good looks led to a broadcasting and movie career, numerous endorsement deals (including the famous Hertz commercials with him running through the airports), and he even hosted Saturday Night Live.
His public image became so carefully crafted that he even took diction lesson to anglicize his speech while playing for Buffalo to increase his appeal. Like Berry Gordy did with his Motown acts, OJ made sure he had a crossover appeal with white audiences. In fact, he was the most popular black athlete of his time and paved the way for Michael Jordan with his endorsement deals. Even though he was a below average actor and sports announcer, the public (black and white) and the camera loved him. He could do no wrong and had a squeaky-clean image. Or, so we thought.
On New Years in 1989, he beat his wife (Nicole Brown Simpson) and threatened to kill her. He pleaded no contest to a charge of wife beating and agreed to a fine, community service, and counseling (apparently this did not help) calling the altercation “no big deal.” In turns out that there was also a 911 call on October 23, 1993 from his now ex-wife with an enraged Simpson harassing her in a threatening manner. Then, just eight months later, on June 12, 1994, OJ killed Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman, apparently because Nicole would not reconcile with him.
Sadly and unjustly, in my opinion, he was found not guilty in the criminal trial. He was found guilty in the civil trial against him for wrongful death brought by the Goldman and Brown families. I think this judgment ironically led to OJ’s current legal problems because he did not legally try to reclaim his sports memorabilia because he knew that the courts would confiscate it in order to satisfy the civil judgment against him by the Goldman’s and the Brown’s.
Like in the past, OJ did not learn his lesson. Not only that, he was completely oblivious to the fact that he was lucky not to have been locked-up for the last 13 years and that most people felt that he was guilty of the murders. OJ is the prime example (along with Mike Tyson) of a star athlete who learned early on in life that because of his amazing athletic ability that often times he did not have to play by society's rules. He developed a sense of entitlement and as a result reacted poorly to any type of rejection. Some, like Jordan, can handle it; others cannot.
As a result, to me, a childhood hero is now a pathetic human being who might spend the rest of his life in prison. While this is deservedly so, it is still sad nonetheless. Perhaps Plaxico Burress, Michael Vick, and Adam “Pacman” Jones are paying attention. But, I doubt it—that dreaded star athlete’s sense of entitlement seems to control their behavior more than logic or common sense.
(Note: When I heard that OJ's sentencing Judge (Jackie Glass) was a no-nonsense judge known for tough sentences, I was expecting a 10-20 year sentence (I am a criminal defense attorney so I actually know a little about this), hence, the 9-33 year sentence that she gave OJ did not surprise me. I do not believe she punished OJ for his previous acquittal of murder charges given her tough reputation.
I am glad that I did not have to do the sentencing because while I do think the facts of the case were enough to convict him of the armed robbery and kidnapping charges—the circumstances were relatively mild compared to the typical armed robbery and kidnapping cases.
Plus, I would have to counter that with the constant thought that OJ should have been convicted of the two murder charges, which, of course, I would not be legally allowed to consider.)