By Elwood Watson
October 3rd is a day that has deeply associated itself with O.J. Simpson. It is a day he will probably never forget. On this day in 1995, he was acquitted of the double murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her waiter, body builder friend, Ronald Goldman. More than a decade later, on the exact same day, Simpson and his co-defendant were found guilty of attempted kidnapping and robbery. Multiple other charges were levied against both defendants as well.
I was attending an academic conference once I heard the verdict announced. Seeing Simpson on Court TV as the charges against him were being read made my mind flashback to the stark differences of his current trial and the previous one conducted thirteen years earlier. The frenzied media atmosphere that saturated trial number one deeply contrasted with the virtual news blackout that greeted the more recent O.J. Simpson.
The original Simpson trial was a television spectacle with all the makings of a potential Hollywood movie. There was sex and violence, success and failure, interracial and religious issues, gender differences, racial conflict, allegations of sexual deviancy and other factors that made for a titillating spectacle.
Intense media coverage of the first trial made it difficult to avoid. Stories about the case became daily tidbits on the major three networks. Related networks such as CNN covered the trial for its entire duration.
On the contrary, the second trial produced no such level of media obsession. The truckload of media outlets, lines of adoring fans and ardent detractors and people (on both sides) arguing in public with one another was virtually nowhere to be found. In fact, the most recent trial garnered very minimal attention.
What made the seeming lack of public interest this time around so interesting was the critical absence of a response from many in the African American community. To be sure there were some African Americans who followed the second trial intensely, but they (like many Whites and other-non-Blacks), appeared to have adopted a considerable level of indifference to Simpson. The fact is, it was very difficult for many of his fellow brethren to rally around Simpson this time. The mindset among many in the Black community is that Simpson should have learned to have – to paraphrase a popular saying – “left well enough alone.” As far as people were concerned, he should have been grateful and counted his lucky stars that he was acquitted for the brutal murder of two people who were slaughtered and decapitated like animals. Many thought Simpson should have had the common sense to recede into obscurity.
Personally, I can understand this mindset. Most people who had been exonerated of sadistically murdering two human beings (guilty or not), would probably stay out of the public eye for the reminder of their lives or at the very least keep a very low profile. This is particularly true if there had been a considerable degree of ambiguity in regards to the person’s innocence. There were also other Blacks who felt that after his successful first trial – while he made some brief overtures of gratitude – that Simpson still largely “kept his distance” from the African American community.
One thing is for certain, rather than drop out of the rabid eye of the public arena, Simpson continued to have numerous run-ins with the law. From verbal altercations with police officers to testy encounters with neighbors and others; he sporadically and infamously kept himself in the news.
Once the sheriff’s deputies handcuffed Simpson and led him from the courtroom, I began to think about what must have been running through his mind. Did he realize that he would not be in such a predicament had he used better judgment in the first place? At this point, it is very likely that the 62-year-old Heisman trophy winner will spend a large portion, if not all, the remaining years of his life in prison.
It’s a situation that is as senseless as the horrific murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
Dr. Elwood Watson is a full professor of History and African American Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several award-winning academic articles, several anthologies and is the author of the book Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Spring 2008)