"The Juice", African Americans, black, Brentwood, football, Heisman Trophy, Los Angeles, National Football League, NFL, O.J. Simpson, Olympic Games, Santa Monica, University of Southern California, USC, USC Trojans
O.J. Simpson getting some of his MANY yards while a USC Trojan. Photo courtesy of Conquest Chronicles.com
MUSINGS AND A RECOLLECTION OF THE TIME I MET THE FORMER USC LEGEND, NFL HALL OF FAMER, AND POLARIZING FIGURE IN THE AFTERMATH OF HIS RECENTLY BEING GRANTED PAROLE
In the 1970s and 80s, no other African-American was more accepted and liked among white, “mainstream” America than Orenthal James Simpson.
Everywhere you looked in pop culture, there he was.
Which considering the fact that he was the greatest athlete that the University of Southern California ever produced, as evidenced not only by the Heisman Trophy he won in 1968 and the national championship he led the Trojans to the year before, but also for the world record he set as a member of USC’s 440-yard relay team,
As well as being the first NFL running back to gain 2,000 yards in a season, done as a Buffalo Bill in 1973,
Not to mention all the TV appearances, movie roles (Naked Gun, The Towering Inferno), and endorsements, particularly a certain endorsement which saw him sprinting through airports with folks yelling, “Go, O.J. go!”
Wasn’t surprising as in light of the Civil Rights Movement, “Mainstream” America found its go-to black man, the guy whom they could hold up as proof that Jim Crow segregation was a thing of the past.
The guy that whites can accept and not feel threatened, whom they can say, “He’s OK, he’s not like those others…”
Putting it another way: O.J. was more or less the only African-American who could move to any white neighborhood (i.e., the tony community of Brentwood in Los Angeles’ affluent Westside) – even the most conservative of areas – and be welcomed; he was that much of a celebrity.
Kind of like Oprah Winfrey in the 1990s up to today.
O.J. carrying the Olympic Torch up the California Incline off Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica before the Opening Ceremonies in 1984. Photo courtesy of laist.com
So one could imagine the excitement I felt one day in the spring of 1987 when while hanging out at Memorial Park, a flagship park in Santa Monica, I saw “The Juice” watching a high school girl’s softball game that his older daughter, Arnelle, was involved in.
Of course I couldn’t let that moment go by without getting an autograph, so like pretty much any other impressionable young guy I approached O.J., and said in a timid, hopeful fashion,
“Mr. Simpson, may I please have your autograph?”
I only had a little torn-up piece of paper with me, but he agreed to sign it, writing “Peace to you” below his name.
The one thing I noticed about O.J. was that unlike the jovial and outgoing persona that he commonly exuded, while he wasn’t rude to me he seemed a bit surly, giving off a “Get away from me” vibe even as he signed my paper.
Little did I know at that time that surliness was his true, behind-closed-doors mask, as no one needs to be reminded of what happened to O.J. seven years later, especially on the Los Angeles freeways on June 17, 1994 and the following sixteen months after that.
In addition to the events that he was involved in fourteen years hence, which got him locked up in a prison in northern Nevada for armed robbery.
For which he was recently granted parole in front of a national TV audience.
It was around the time of that 90s “Trial of the Century” that I was told the truth regarding O.J.’s personality and persona, something that was widely known in the African-American community but was hushed up everywhere else…
The most famous Ford Bronco of all time leading the most famous police chase of all time, on June 17, 1994. Photo courtesy of motorauthority.com
Nicole Brown wasn’t the only wife beaten by the NFL and college football hall-of-famer, as his first wife, Marguerite, suffered from O.J’s wrath from his Trojan days through the 70s.
I was a little kid at the time and don’t remember any details, but my mother told me that black publications like Jet reported on O.J beating Marguerite, even showing her bruises.
The thing that really convinced me that I shouldn’t be an O.J. admirer was his lack of commitment to African-American issues – racism, segregation, civil rights – that contemporaries like Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jim Brown, and Olympic athletes like Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who famously took a stand against U.S. bigotry by raising their back-gloved fists at the 1968 Games in Mexico City.
Rather than join Ali, Jabbar (who refused to play on the U.S. basketball team that year) and company in their stands against black oppression, he said,
“I’m not black, I’m O.J.”
Which said a lot right there.
As for my speculations of O.J. and what the future may bring for him…
It’s no secret that he’s considered persona non grata by the “Mainstream” America that once embraced him so,
But as O.J.’s reportedly made around $600,000 during the nine years he spent in Lovelock Prison and will for the rest of his life collect his $25,000 a month pension from the NFL – which no one can touch – I reckon he’ll be fine.
Just as long as he gets out of the public eye and stays out.
I am kicking myself, however, and have been doing so for the past thirty years, for not keeping that autograph of O.J’s as I lost it not that long afterward;
I could have sold it when that trial went down in the mid-90s and made some serious cash!
O.J. during his recent parole hearing; I must admit he doesn’t look too bad. Photo courtesy of extratv.com