Home » OJ Simpson’s public life crossed decades and boundaries, leaving lasting echoes. Here are a few

OJ Simpson’s public life crossed decades and boundaries, leaving lasting echoes. Here are a few

by John Jefferson
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O.J. Simpson is gone now. But his life and public journey across seven decades touched multiple areas of American life, from sports to the legal arena to culture. The murder case against him in 1994 — and his acquittal in 1995 — had deep implications for how people talk about race and domestic violence.

Here, Associated Press journalists with expertise in three areas — the law, sports and culture — weigh in on what will endure long after Simpson’s death fades from public discussion.

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THE LAW: DNA AND CELEBRITY TRIAL BY TELEVISION

Simpson’s trial was the first to bring broad public awareness to the burgeoning science of DNA evidence. While jurors in 1995 rejected the forensics when they acquitted him of killing ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ron Goldman, juries thereafter would be forever familiar with the science.

The trial was the first in a series of cases and TV shows in which DNA played a role, including the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal three years later, and the premiere of the original “CSI” two years after that.

Now, DNA is expected by jurors and court observers, frustrating prosecutors in cases that don’t have it.

The choice to televise all nine months of Simpson’s trial drew a level of scrutiny never seen before and made celebrities of nearly every character in the case on Court TV. It caused a long hangover that res nearly three decades later, and there is no expectation, at least in California, that a trial will be televised wall-to-wall like that again.

Other states still occasionally allow it — and those are the trials, like the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard fight in Virginia in 2022, get the most attention.

— By AP Entertainment Writer Andrew Dalton, who frequently covers trials related to celebrity and the entertainment industry.

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SPORTS: PROWESS, STAR POWER, BUT NO NFL CHAMPIONSHIP

Football made O.J. Simpson a star and he was one of the greatest players in NFL history as well as the best running back of his era in the 1970s. He was a superstar in college at the University of Southern California and received a hero’s welcome in Buffalo when the Bills selected him No. 1 in the 1969 NFL draft. Even teammates were awed by Simpson’s presence.

And though it took coaches four years to figure out how to best use him, he didn’t disappoint.

Simpson was a graceful runner and gracious teammate. He combined speed and power with elusive skills that helped him become the first player to rush for 2,000 yards in a season and the only one ever to do it when the league played a 14-game schedule. He shared the credit by bringing his offensive linemen with him to the news conference after setting the record.

His mark of 143.1 yards rushing per game still stands, and he led the league in rushing four times in a five-year span. Simpson’s accomplishments earned him a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on his first ballot in 1985.

His success didn’t translate into championships, however. The Bills only reached the playoffs once and had just three winning seasons in Simpson’s nine years with the team. He played two more years with the San Francisco 49ers, who won just four games in that span.

Simpson’s impact on football extended beyond the field into television. He began acting while still in college and co-starred in movies during his playing career. He was a successful NFL analyst, pitchman and Hollywood star before murder allegations halted his career and tarnished his legacy.

The NFL and his former teams distanced themselves from Simpson following the murder trial. His death wasn’t publicly acknowledged by the league or the teams.

— By AP Sports Writer Rob Maaddi, who covers the NFL.

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THE CULTURE: A FAST-GROWING MEDIA SOCIETY AND AN APPETITE FOR TRUE CRIME

When it comes to the crossroads of TV and the tabloids, there is before O.J. Simpson — and after.

The man and the case, with all their tabloid undertones, overtones and straight-up tones mashed all the 20th century’s celebrity misdoings into one unbelievably lurid, high-profile saga that obsessed a nation. One could find echoes of so much — from the intense speculation around the Lindbergh baby case to the snap judgments applied to Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle’s trial, from the Hollywood-saturated Manson murders to the assassination of John Lennon by a deranged fan and the attempt on President Ronald Reagan’s life by a man obsessed with Jodie Foster.

It wasn’t only about looking back, though; it was about what was at hand as the 21st century dawned. The man at the center of it all had been a football hero, movie star, and TV announcer who quickly became a fallen icon, revving up many things that were just around the corner.

His downfall helped ushered true crime into the stream media industry (however questionable that result). It helped fuel the ascending culture of reality TV and the obsession with the antihero. And, of course, it presaged some of the more base traits of social media more than a decade before that corner of society rose.

No matter how anyone felt about Simpson, odds were they paid attention. That, more than anything, might be the legacy of the man and the saga that surrounded him for a very strange miniature era of American history.

— By AP National Writer Ted Anthony, who writes about American culture and how it is changing.

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