This Week in Sports: O.J. Simpson Dies at 76

OJ Simpson and Nicole brown Simpson - photo by Gary leonard

“On April 10th, our father, Orenthal James Simpson, succumbed to his battle with cancer,” read a statement posted by Simpson’s family. “He was surrounded by his children and grandchildren.”

Orenthal James Simpson was born July 9, 1947, in San Francisco, where he grew up in government-subsidized housing projects.

While Simpson was a highly decorated athlete – winning the 1968 Heisman Trophy before playing for the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and later the San Francisco 49ers. Simpson was a nearly perfect running back. He had good size at 6-foot-1, 212 pounds. He had world-class speed; in 1967 he was part of a four-man USC relay team that set a world record in the 440-yard event. He was revered for having fantastic football instincts, especially in the open field.

Simpson played 11 NFL seasons, nine of them with the Buffalo Bills, who made Simpson the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft in 1969. With Buffalo he became known as “The Juice” on an offensive line known as “The Electric Company.” He won four NFL rushing titles, rushed for 11,236 yards in his career, scored 76 touchdowns, made five first-team All-Pro squads and played in five Pro Bowls.

His best season was 1973, when he ran for 2,003 yards — the first running back to break the 2,000-yard rushing mark (doing it in 14 games) while averaging 141.3 yards per game, still an NFL record.

Simpson possessed the rare ability to transcend racial barriers as the star Trojans tailback for college football’s powerful University of Southern California in the late 1960s, as a rental car ad pitchman rushing through airports in the late 1970s, and as the husband of a blond and blue-eyed high school homecoming queen in the 1980s.

OJ Simpson at USC, circa 1968 – courtesy – Netflix
Simpson later became perhaps one of the most controversial figures of the late 20th century after he was charged with the murders of his former wife and her friend. His accomplishments immortalized by the Hall of Fame NFL and as USC Trojan legendary running back were overshadowed by his 1995 acquittal in the brutal killings of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman.

O.J. Simpson’s Tainted Legacy

On June 12, the bodies of Brown Simpson and Goldman were found outside her condo in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles. Simpson was a person of interest in the murders, but rather than turn himself in five days later, he led police on a low-speed chase throughout Los Angeles as a passenger in a white Ford Bronco driven by former NFL player Al Cowlings.

During this time O.J. spent a considerable amount of time in Downtown LA courts during his 8-month televised trial.

The Trial of the Century was held at the Los Angeles Superior Court in Downtown Los Angeles in 1994. Simpson was represented by a high-profile defense team, referred to as the “Dream Team”, which was initially led by Robert Shapiro and subsequently directed by Johnnie Cochran.

Simpsons legal team dubbed, “The Dream Team,” included F. Lee Bailey, Alan Dershowitz, and good friend Robert Kardashian, the patriarch and father of future Superstars Kim, Kourtney and Khloe Kardashian.

An estimated television audience of 95 million watched the drama unfold, with live coverage preempting regular programming, including the NBA Finals.

The moment he was found not guilty by a jury of his peers of the 1994 murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman was one of the most-watched in television history.

A heaping mess of speculation, bloody gloves, and the presentation of planted evidence would include LAPD detective Mark Fuhrman, accused of tampering with crime scene evidence and Simpson’s blood samples (Fuhrman after inacting the fifth amendment) on the witness stand, which allowed defense attorneys to find the opening they needed to cast reasonable doubt on Simpson’s guilt, which ultimately coerced the jury into a not guilty verdict. Mark Furhman went on to retire in 1995 after writing a book in which he maintained his innocence.

Although the criminal court jury found Simpson not guilty of murder in 1995, a separate civil trial jury found him liable in 1997 for the deaths and ordered him to pay $33.5 million to family members of Brown and Goldman.

Simpson eventually ended up behind bars in an unrelated case, serving 9 years of a sentence of up to 33 years following his conviction on charges related to a 2007 armed robbery in Las Vegas in which he and others tried to recover at gunpoint of what Simpson said were pieces of his own sports memorabilia. In the end, the authorities did return the stolen items to O.J. Simpson.

He was granted parole for good behavior in 2017, telling the Nevada parole board: “I’ve done my time. I’ve done it as well and as respectfully as I think anyone can.”

Public fascination with Simpson never faded. Many debated if he had been punished in Las Vegas for his acquittal in Los Angeles. In 2016, he was the subject of both an FX miniseries and five-part ESPN documentary.

Featured photo by Gary Leonard

Author: Christopher Floch

Sports Writer l