The cocky, self-assured former football star suddenly seemed gone — seemingly taken away by aliens, or victim of a body snatcher. There seemed to be an older man in his place — a man with worn lines on his face, deep bags under his eyes seemingly carved into his flesh by stress.
It’s terrible but completely accurate to say it: today was the day many Americans have been living for.
The Juice’s luck had dried up and there were real tears in his eyes. A Las Vegas judge sentenced him for at least 9 years in prison for kidnapping and robbery.
Finally, OJ Simpson would walk to a place with bars that wasn’t a five-star hotel.
In the Godfather a famous line is “Don’t you know who I am? I’m Moe Green!” To many, there seemed a “Don’t you know who I am? I’m O.J. Simpson!” aspect to O.J. and the concept of justice.
Because if onetime football great O.J. Simpson had many who believed he wasn’t guilty of the horrific 1994 double murders of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ronald Goldman as the criminal case’s jury decided, there was also a huge contingent of people all over the world who applauded the civil judgment against Simpson that was awarded in a wrongful deaths in civil suit after the murder trial.
OJ had become a shunned man, but nonetheless supremely confident, never seeing a camera or microphone he didn’t like, accused of hiding his assets from the civil-suit-triumphant Goldman family, and occasionally surfacing in mainstream newspapers and tabloid stories.
The post-murder acquittal jokes were grim. For jokes to work they need an assumption that the joke tweaks or shatters — and you could tell by the jokes that O.J. was someone who many felt literally got away with murder:
(Referring to his old role as a TV pitchman for a car rental company): O.J. Simpson is going to be doing some new TV commercials for his old rent a car company. Their slogan will be “Love Hertz.”
O.J. Simpson is looking for his wife’s real killers on every golf course and in every fine restaurant in North America.
But there he was today in the courtroom giving those who felt he walked while his nearly decapitated wife Nicole’s body rotted in the ground and young Ron Goldman’s family continued shattered over their beloved’s bad luck that day in 1994 the moment they had hoped and prayed they would live to see: when O.J. Simpson didn’t seemingly escape the consequences other less wealthy, less famous, less revered Americans would have had to face.
In one ironic sense, O.J. proved to be a kind of victim too…of the economy:
During his first trial he had the luxury of going into the trial a national sports hero, TV pitchman and actor (it is now jarring to see him do comedy in “The Naked Gun” movies, which one comedian said should have been retitled “The Naked Knife.”). So he was able to afford one of the most charismatic and effective trial lawyers of the time — Johnny Cochran. Cochran won but he didn’t come cheap and he made the phrase “played the race card” a national phrase. But he won and the nation was bitterly divided over whether Cochran’s made the case that OJ didn’t commit the murders or not.
After the trial, Simpson’s income flow was not the same. He was dogged when he tried to sell autographs. The Goldmans doggedly pursued his assets. He was through as a TV pitchman, finished as a sportscaster, fini as an actor and couldn’t even publish a supposedly hypothetical book about how he would have killed his wife and the young Goldman IF he had killed them (a national outcry halted its publication and the Goldmans gained control of the book and its profits).
He was man roaming the world with a smile and a seemingly unshakable belief in himself and his innocence — a sports hero turned pariah.
And then he and some associates entered that room in Vegas. And his luck ran out.
The realities are 1) some people still think he didn’t commit the murders, 2) he is going to jail and the prospects of an early parole for him no matter how well he does aren’t great (you can bet money in Vegas on that), and 3) many people will now feel there is a definitive answer to the (in)famous Time Magazine cover of the 60s that asked “Is God Dead?”
“O.J.” used to mean orange juice. After the murder trial orange juice wasn’t advertised as much as “OJ” anymore.
With O.J. away for a while, OJ may be used to mean orange juice again.
And although he will continue to have the support of those who believe he has been railroaded, there will be many who’ll sleep a bit happier knowing that what they firmly believed went around in 1994 at last partially came around in 2008.
1. AP news report showing O.J.’s plea to the judge.
2. Here’s a CBS video that shows five minutes straight of OJ’s plea to the judge — a far cry from the image of OJ at the 1994 trial:
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.