One last word about O.J. Simpson and how well he served up BS, America’s favorite main course | Jones (2024)

Joe Louis.

Frank Sinatra.

Mickey Mantle.

Elvis Presley.

O.J. Simpson.

I just chose the most famous and at once positively perceived people in America for each decade in the middle of the 20th Century. I might be off by a smidge here or there. But these people ruled the entertainment world at one point or another during the ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s.

And none of them matter much anymore. When do you even hear about any of them? Sinatra and Elvis pop up on satellite radio and still enjoy some retrospective fame. But only in an ambient glow.

This struck me when Simpson passed last week at the age of 76. He was everywhere in the 1970s. You could not avoid seeing him or hearing about him.

And yet, his death made but a momentary ripple in a world that has largely forgotten not only his famous moments on the field but a night 30 years ago that made him infamous.

Not only is fame fleeting, I guess so even is infamy.

I didn’t write about Simpson immediately after his death was announced on Thursday primarily because I was tied up with another column. But also because I was curious about the tenor of the reaction.

It surprised me how many television pundits especially began with some banality about his legacy being “complicated”. As if getting away with killing one’s spouse must be weighed carefully against the single-season rushing yards per game average and the durability of his Hertz commercials.

(“Go, O.J., go!”)

Maybe they confused complication with conflicting images. But images commonly lie. And never more so than within the duplicity of the sports and entertainment worlds. Showbiz demands the presentment of not just a talent but a pleasing profile to match. And nobody was better or more compliant at putting on the act than O.J.

I guess I get why many really have no interest in talking about Simpson anymore. They don’t want to admit they enjoyed his athletic gifts and pleasing personality in the same way none of us want to relive laughing with the comedy of a poisoned Bill Cosby or marveling at the dance moves and music of a tainted Michael Jackson.

Still, the effect Simpson has had on this country at large cannot be minimized. His is a story worth dissecting, as it was best in Ezra Edelman’s brilliant 2016 ESPN 30 For 30 film “O.J.: Made in America”.

By all accounts, Simpson decided at an early age that he would not remain poor as he was growing up on San Francisco’s seedy near-south side. He would be rich and famous. And that meant figuring out how to exploit worlds of which he was not yet a part.

Nobody constructed an entire BS persona quite like O.J. Simpson. And by doing so, he made allies that served him no matter the circ*mstance. As the late George Carlin so eloquently put it:

“America is built on bull----.”

First, the son of a latent hom*osexual and known drag queen around San Francisco constructed the reputation of a badass. He was a teenage gang member before he became a football star. His first wife, high school sweetheart Marguerite Whitley, affirmed in one 1968 interview that the young Simpson was not a good guy:

“He was a beast. He was pretty horrible. If there were other fellows who wanted to talk to girls, he’d make them stay away. He’d been a terrible person, right on the edge of trouble.”

This was the year Simpson won the Heisman Trophy as Southern California’s star running back. And his public personality was only just then surfacing.

After three forgettable years with the Buffalo Bills, a switch in coaching to Lou Saban released Simpson’s talent. In the five seasons from 1972-76, Simpson was the best player in a golden age of the NFL.

One last word about O.J. Simpson and how well he served up BS, America’s favorite main course | Jones (1)

Simpson’s 2,003 rushing yards in 1973 is still the most any NFL back has gained in 14 games, then the standard schedule. His best season might actually have been 1975 when he gained 1,817 rushing and scored 23 touchdowns, 7 by reception. The next year in 1976, he ran for 273 yards on 29 attempts on Thanksgiving in Detroit, and somehow the Bills still lost, 27-14.

Simpson’s team was never quite good enough to beat the glory-days Dolphins or Steelers. But his own diligence with just-decent Buffalo squads only served to lift his profile.

And he was one tough dude between the lines during a more basic era of the game. Simpson averaged 303 carries and 1,540 rushing yards per season during that 1972-76 span. He led the NFL in carries and in yards per game in three of those seasons and in net rushing yards in four. Half a century later, he still holds the NFL single-season yards/game record (143.1 ypg in 1973).

But Simpson was also a transcendent personality, simultaneously working as a color commentator for ABC Sports, pitching products, appearing in big-budget disaster movies and network series.

First, he turned a beguiling manner into a status of the first black athlete to enter the white advertising world. Simpson’s Hertz commercials of half a century ago were Madison Avenue’s first toe in the water in using an African-American to attract a mass Caucasian buying public.

One last word about O.J. Simpson and how well he served up BS, America’s favorite main course | Jones (2)

Simpson’s smiling face and non-threatening manner was a more important bridge in race relations soon after the violence of the Civil Rights era than perhaps any other component in American life. It’s a short list of contenders: Diahann Carroll’s family drama Julia. Flip Wilson’s variety hour. And O.J. sprinting through airports as a spunky elderly white woman cheered him on.

In explaining his marketing influence, he is reported to have said to at least one journalist: “I’m not black, I’m not white. I’m O.J.”

Without Simpson to blaze the trail, there is no Michael Jordan to paint it gold.

He used that long-developed celebrity to dissuade and shoo away mostly white police officers his ex-wife Nicole Brown repeatedly summoned after he had beaten her in marriage and stalked her out of it.

And yet, when the purpose served him, he reversed the process and sold to a three-fourths black jury his innocence in killing Brown and her friend Ron Goldman.

That acquittal, following the equally abhorrent acquittal of Simi Valley police officers who brutally beat a handcuffed Rodney King on videotape, jointly did more to reopen old racial wounds than arguably any two events in American life. They were linked both causally and socially.

So, Simpson first helped span the racial divide, then helped rip it back open again, all as it served his own needs.

That’s a helluva quinella.

Right to the end, even after finally gaining parole from a decade in a federal pen for armed robbery, Simpson served up his BS. As if powered by some need for his lost celebrity, he posted videos, offering his analyses of upcoming football games nobody asked him for. You’d have thought he’d crawl into a dim corner and live out his last years in solitude before cancer took him. But no, he still needed the spotlight.

America does run on bull----. And those who produce it best never tire of wielding the shovel.

More PennLive sports coverage:

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Charles Barkley mocking eclipse enthusiasts feeds into trendy anti-intellectualism of our times.

Purdue’s one-trick pony Edey not enough to withstand UConn stampede in NCAA title rout.

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One last word about O.J. Simpson and how well he served up BS, America’s favorite main course | Jones (2024)

FAQs

What was O.J. Simpson famous for? ›

In addition to his sports career and acting, Simpson was also famous for the widely televised murder trial, which divided the country largely along racial lines. During the trial, Simpson was acquitted of two counts of murder in the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson, his ex-wife, and her friend Ronald Goldman.

Is O.J. Simpson a Hall of Famer? ›

O.J. was twice honored in retirement for his achievements on the field. In 1983, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Later, in 1985, O.J. was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio – the first Buffalo Bill to be so honored.

What were the stats of O.J. Simpson in 1973? ›

Simpson had three 200-yard rushing games, six 150-yard rushing games and eleven 100-yard rushing games. He only had 30 rushes in a game twice all season, but totaled 2,003 yards due to a 6.0 yards-per-carry average. Over the course of the season Simpson also caught six pass receptions.

Who is the best running back in history? ›

Jim Brown

For many, Jim Brown was the best running back of all-time and it's easy to understand why. Brown played nine seasons and made nine Pro Bowls, while earning eight All Pro selections. He was fast, powerful, intuitive and fearless.

Did Kardashian defend OJ Simpson? ›

Simpson was guilty of the murder as Robert Kardashian Sr. served as a defense attorney for the former athlete, which Kim detailed in a 2015 interview with Rolling Stone. "I definitely took my dad's side," Kim Kardashian told the outlet.

What does OJ stand for? ›

orange juice. Also: O.J., o.j.

Why is he called O.J. Simpson? ›

He died of AIDS in 1986. Simpson's maternal grandparents were from Louisiana. His aunt gave him the name Orenthal, which she told him was the name of a French or Italian actor she liked. He was called "O.J." from birth and did not know that Orenthal was his given name until a teacher read it in third grade.

What did O.J. Simpson suffer from? ›

Several years before his death last week of cancer, Simpson, 76, spoke about his concerns that he had developed CTE, a degenerative brain disease, because of multiple concussions he suffered during his lauded NFL career.

Was OJ at Nicole's funeral? ›

Nicole had a closed casket funeral on June 16, 1994. However, the day before the funeral there was a private viewing in which her ex husband OJ Simpson attended. In the TV series, The People v O.J Simpson, the funeral is inaccurately portrayed with an open casket.

Did OJ Simpson ever remarry? ›

Mr. Simpson met a blond 18-year-old waitress named Nicole Brown in 1977 when she was just out of high school, and they started living together the following year while he was still married. Mr. Simpson and Marguerite divorced in 1979, and he and Nicole were married in 1985.

Was OJ Simpson a golfer? ›

All through Simpson's turbulent, post-playing career, documented in books and films, his obsession with golf was a constant. He played with Michael Jordan and Lawrence Taylor and, before his murder charges, numerous pro-ams. He was on the circuit. He played public courses, private courses, resort courses.

What was OJ's nickname? ›

Simpson. Orenthal James "O. J." Simpson (July 9, 1947 – April 10, 2024), also known by his nickname, The Juice, was an American football player and movie actor.

How many miles did OJ run? ›

O.J. ARRESTED IN SLAYINGS OF EX-WIFE AND HER FRIEND. O.J. Simpson was hunted down and captured in his driveway Friday night after running from charges of murdering his ex-wife and her male friend and leading police along 60 miles of freeways and city streets.

What NFL team drafted OJ Simpson? ›

Simpson, a two-time unanimous All-American from the University of Southern California and the 1968 Heisman Trophy winner, was one of history's most heralded rookies when the Buffalo Bills selected him as the No. 1 overall pick in the 1969 NFL/AFL common draft.

Was OJ Simpson one of the best NFL players? ›

Simpson was awarded that year's most valuable player award. Simpson died of natural causes in Las Vegas, Nevada on April 10, 2024 at the age of 76. In 2019, the NFL identified the top 100 players in NFL history. Simpson was named the 40th-best player ever in the NFL 100 celebration.

Who has the most rushing titles in NFL history? ›

The Cleveland Browns have recorded the most rushing titles with eleven; the Dallas Cowboys rank second, with seven rushing titles. The most recent rushing champion is Christian McCaffrey of the San Francisco 49ers, who led the league with 1,459 rushing yards during the 2023 season.

Who has the most carries in NFL history? ›

Emmitt Smith has the most career rush attempts, with 4,409 rush attempts.

Who holds the record for most rushing yards in a game? ›

Vikings RB Adrian Peterson set the NFL single-game rushing record with 296 yards and three touchdowns against the Chargers on Nov. 4 2007. Peterson also set an NFL record for rushing yards in a half with 253 rushing yards in the second half.

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