June 17, 1994. O.J. Simpson and his infamous chase in that White Ford Bronco. I still remember it like it was yesterday.
I had just turned 18, and was to walk the stage down at nearby Cain Park for my graduation from my suburban-area high school, Cleveland Heights High in August, when time itself seemingly froze and stood still.
Notable sporting events that were going on that day such as the New York Rangers celebrating their first Stanley Cup in 54 years, Arnold Palmer’s last major at the U.S. Open and Game 5 of the NBA Finals were all live and happening, only to be eclipsed by a former great’s fall from grace and becoming the proverbial lightning rod of race relations in America.
Mind you, this was on the heels of the L.A. riots and the acquittals of four white police officers for their savage video-taped beating of a black motorist in Rodney King.
This was O.J. Simpson, man.
The same guy was I watched on NBC’s NFL games as an analyst, as a former Hertz spokesperson, former NFL Hall of Famer and star running back for the Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers, and Heisman Trophy winner at USC.
Part of me was still in shock during that racially-tinged summer of 1994, that another black man was in trouble with the law. And yet, it was happening live and in real time. Sadly today’s parole brought back all of those painful and uncomfortable days of the early to late 1990’s all over again.
Because of how it was covered in real time and instantly, we now have its by-products such as reality television, 24-hour cable news channels such as CNN, court television and paparazzi-inspired gossip-style hacks such as TMZ.
By now, we all know the story of how he got off and was found not guilty of the double murder of his late wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ron Goldman, and that after a racially-charged trial that would grip and divide American society along racial, cultural and societal lines, and that a string of uncomfortable conversations about race, class, money, celebrity coverage and police brutality that this would be over right?
Wrong. Simpson would again re-enter the limelight in an armed robbery in Las Vegas over sports memorabilia.
What first blew my mind was, why?
Why would you risk your personal freedom and well-being over a bunch of old jerseys, trophies and proverbial junk to risk going to jail AFTER being found not guilty in the MOST WATCHED trial of a public figure in American history.
After being sentenced to 33 years for attempted armed robbery in 2008, Simpson would spend nine years of that sentence before going for parole and ultimately being released this afternoon.
From being known more as Nevada prison inmate #1027820, to a free man because of his name. Must be nice, eh! Even after 23 years, the more the things stay the same, the more they change, right?
In what has been called a “theater of the absurd” by talking media heads and trending non-stop on Twitter as #OJSimpsonParole, it is a truly sad state of affairs that a parole hearing was televised and covered the way it was today. It literally smacks in the face of the Goldman and Brown families, innocents who witnessed that infamous car chase almost a quarter century ago and EVERY. OTHER. black man and prisoner current incarcerated for similar crimes.
If my name wasn’t O.J. Simpson and I hadn’t done what he did in his glorious athletic past, I know that myself—as an African-American—would be doing hard time in a maximum-security somewhere downstate in Mansfield, instate of the medium-security playpen/country club that was reportedly Lovelock Correctional Facility.
During his “Hearing Of The Century” he was his old charming, non-apologetic, arrogant, self-absorbed and flippant self. You’d think that thanks to the celebrity public figure cache of the past, that helped you escape, you’d be a bit more humble before a four-panel board debating your future.
Even that was a mockery of justice.
You had one wearing a Kansas City Chiefs tie, another wearing a Heisman shirt, in what could have best been described as a quasi-carnival of bad fashion and even worse justice. In being granted parole unanimously 4-0, the now 70-year-old Simpson will reenter a completely different and even MORE racially and fractured society in which his every move and action will be tweeted, liked and instantly captured.
On one side, you have the alt-right, pro-Donald Trump supporters who will see this as another failure in the soft “liberal-filled” justice, you have another in the #BlackTwitter-led rainbow-inspired coalition of social justice warriors (SJW’s) who feel that Simpson was unfairly exploited by a white-controlled society and that he is a victim of said world.
Oh boy, the quasi and casual soft racism that will follow Simpson’s parole and release should spawn a whole new docuseries by itself. And then there is of course, Trump, who I’m sure is dying to tweet his opinion.
Simpson, whose own relationship with Black America is at best considered complicated, thanks to his own casual use of the “n-word” when describing fellow blacks in the 80’s, and seemingly wishing to distance himself from them, only when it was convenient, will now need their help and support in trying to acclimate himself into the 2017 Divided States of Ameri-Russia.
His world will now be forever different as said groups will never forget his past transgressions in a double murder and armed robbery, and will attempt to dispense their own form of “justice” via social media in voicing their newest form of faux outrage. To those who are too young enough to known who was is prior to 1994, it’s that all you have to do is Google him and terms like “double murder”, “acquittal” and “White Ford Bronco” are likely to come up.
This is no longer a black and white issue, when it comes to justice, but sadly Simpson offered another painful reminder as to why it indeed is and how the power of being a famous athlete and public figure does indeed have its privileges.