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Simpson, O.J.

O.J. Simpson


American football player

O.J. Simpson's squeaky clean image and rags to riches story was the type of "only in America" success story that the sports world holds up as an example of how much can be achieved in athletics. His electrifying career with the Buffalo Bills and the endless opportunities it led to after his retirement were an inspiration to his many fans. Simpson represented an American ideal in the wake of the civil rights movement. He was accepted by white mainstream America as no other athlete had been before him and for that he enjoyed the benefit of being almost universally loved. In 1994, when he was arrested for the double murder of his ex-wife and her friend, the country became mesmerized by the unfolding events and eventually split down the dividing lines of race after his acquittal. With an overwhelmingly positive public persona and a record breaking career, O.J. Simpson's fall from grace ultimately became a sociological study in race relations and celebrity in America.

The Early Years

Born Orenthal James Simpson on July 9, 1947, in Putrero Hill, a low-income neighborhood outside of San Francisco, California, Simpson's childhood pointed to everything but a career in athletics. His father left the family while Simpson was still a toddler and his mother worked at a psychiatric ward to support her four children. Simpson developed rickets soon after birth and the disease left him pigeon-toed and bowlegged. Unable to afford surgery to correct the affliction, Simpson endured the wrath of his childhood friends who took to calling him "Pencil Pins" because of his legs. His early interest in sports was encouraged by his mother, however, and combined with his unfettered determination he would eventually achieve the excellence and acceptance he desired in his youth.

During Simpson's adolescence his experiments on the wrong side of the law would lead to a life changing meeting with San Francisco Giant hero Willie Mays . Simpson, along with friend Al "A.C." Cowlings, joined a local gang known as the Persian Warriors. After getting caught stealing, a neighborhood youth leader asked Mays to spend an afternoon with the teenage Simpson. He would recall it later in life as the first time he realized that he could achieve his dreams.


1947 Born July 9 in San Francisco, California
1967 Enrolls at the University of Southern California
1967 Marries Marguerite Whitley
1967 Named Outstanding Player in the Rose Bowl
1968 Wins the Heisman Trophy
1968 Signs television contract with ABC
1969 Joins the Buffalo Bills
1969 Named Man of the Year by Sport magazine
1973 Breaks single season rushing record
1974 Appears in The Towering Inferno
1975 Begins Hertz Rent-A-Car campaign
1977 Meets Nicole Brown
1978 Divorces Maguerite Whitely
1978 Traded to San Francisco 49ers
1979 Daughter Aaren drowns in backyard swimming pool
1979 Retires from football
1985 Inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame
1985 Marries Nicole Brown
1989 Arrested for spousal battery
1992 Files for divorce from Brown
1994 Nicole Brown found murdered
1994 Arrested for murder
1995 Acquitted in criminal trial

Simpson would quickly gain his first taste of the adulation that he would enjoy throughout so much of his life. Simpson and Cowlings were named to the all-city team in high school and were their team's star players. Simpson, however, didn't have the grades to go on to a reputable school and instead played at City College of San Francisco. At City College, Simpson quickly garnered notice averaging 9.3 yards per carry and scoring fifty-four touchdowns. Of the fifty colleges that tried to recruit him after his sophomore year, Simpson chose the University of Southern California. He married his high school sweetheart, Maguerite Whitley, and continued his climb to stardom.

USC and Beyond

At USC, Simpson enjoyed the attention of the nation playing in a national championship game and setting college football records with his uncanny abilities and charming personality. "He's not only a wonderful football player, but he's a wonderful young man," said Norman Topping, then president of USC. Simpson won the Heisman Trophy in 1968 and quickly began signing endorsement deals and branching out into television. Before signing his first NFL contract, Simpson had already signed a three-year, $250,000, endorsement deal with Chevrolet. Before he played in his first NFL game, he had already made a guest appearance on the television drama, "Medical Center."

Simpson was drafted by the Buffalo Bills with the first pick of the draft. His first few years in the NFL would be rather uneventful. He was rarely used in his rookie season, gaining only 697 yards in 1969. The following year he was sidelined with a knee-injury. It wasn't until 1971, behind an offensive line named "The Electric Company" because "they turned on the Juice," that Simpson would show off his innate ability to elude defenders and consistently break the game with long yardage runs. He was effectively a one-man team, although he was always generously deferring credit to his teammates. "There were power runners and there were escape runners, but he was a slashing-type runner," recalled former Kansas City Chief coach Hank Stram. "He had tremendous vision and excellent balance and very good timing. He would always be gauging to get where he was going. He would start off like he was looking for a hold, and BANG!, he was gone. You could contain him and contain him, and then he'd go 75 yards for a touchdown."

The Record Books

At times his teammates seemed more interested in helping him achieve the personal accolades that became important to a Buffalo team that was never a championship contender during Simpson's stay. In 1973, Simpson became the first back to rush for over 2,000 yards, breaking Jim Brown 's single-season rushing record of 1,863. "O.J. gives credit where credit is due," said Joe Ferguson, the Bills' rookie quarterback, in Sports Illustrated. "He's helped me on the field and off. Nobody here is jealous of him. He hasn't got an enemy in the world. All of us wanted to see him get the yardage." Added offensive linemen Reggie McKenzie, "A record is a collective thing, anyway. I'm just thankful to be on the offensive line that broke Jim Brown's record." What made the record even more remarkable were the back to back 200 yard games that Simpson ran in the freezing cold and snow filled fields of New England and New York.

Acting and Endorsements

The following year Simpson made his acting debut in the film, The Towering Inferno. It marked the beginning of what would become a fairly successful career for an athlete turned actor. Simpson, to his credit, would never take his movie career as seriously as some of his contemporaries. "I'm a realist," he said in a Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service story. "Obviously, I'm not Dustin Hoffman. I have to play an athletic type, just as Woody Allen has to play a wimp type. No matter how many acting lessons I took, the public just wouldn't buy me as Othello." Nevertheless, Simpson continued to act throughout the years following his football career, most notably in The Naked Gun series.

Career Statistics

Rushing Receiving
Buffalo: Buffalo Bills; SF: San Francisco 49ers.
1969 Buffalo 181 697 3.9 2 30 343 11.4 3
1970 Buffalo 120 488 4.1 5 10 139 13.9 0
1971 Buffalo 183 742 4.1 5 21 162 7.7 0
1972 Buffalo 292 1251 4.3 6 27 198 7.3 0
1973 Buffalo 332 2003 6.0 12 6 70 11.7 0
1974 Buffalo 270 1125 4.2 3 15 189 12.6 1
1975 Buffalo 329 1817 5.5 16 28 426 15.2 7
1976 Buffalo 290 1503 5.2 8 22 259 11.8 1
1977 Buffalo 126 557 4.4 0 16 138 8.6 0
1978 SF 161 593 3.7 1 21 172 8.2 2
1979 SF 120 460 3.8 3 7 46 6.6 0
TOTAL 2404 11236 4.7 61 203 2142 10.6 14

Because of his natural charisma and an almost universal acceptance, Simpson continued to field endorsement

offers from numerous companies lured by his impeccable image. In 1975, Hertz Rent-A-Car made him the first African-American man hired for a major national corporate advertising campaign. The teaming would be wildly successful and continue long into his retirement from football. He would eventually endorse, among others, Royal Crown Cola, Schick, Foster Grant, Treesweet orange juice and Wilson Sporting Goods.

In 1978, Simpson was traded from the Buffalo Bills to the San Francisco 49ers. After an injury early in his first year there led to the discovering of a badly damaged knee, Simpson retired in 1979 the highest paid football player in the NFL with a salary of $806,688. He finished his career with 11,236 yards and six Pro Bowl appearances along with the numerous records and firsts.

It was also during the late seventies that Simpson's personal life began to change. In 1977, he moved to Brentwood, California with his wife and family. The struggling marriage, however, would officially end after the strain of their daughter's death in the family's swimming pool. Their divorce was finalized in 1979 and O.J. would soon move Nicole Brown, a young waitress he met in 1977, into his Brentwood estate. "She was 18," he said of Brown years later. "She was innocent. She was confident. She was, you know, a little kooky. But she was gorgeous. She was, I thought, the most beautiful girl I'd ever seen. And she didn't know who I was, and I loved that." The two would eventually marry in 1985, the same year he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Simpson would continue a successful career in movies, product endorsements and as an analyst for "Monday Night Football." Unlike most athletes, Simpson was as recognizable after his playing days as he was during them. Unlike Jim Brown, who was considered a better actor and football player but had a rough and threatening public persona, Simpson's image had provided him with a relatively easy transition into retirement.

Murder and the Media

In 1989, Simpson was arrested for spousal battery after an incident on New Year's morning. Simpson's reputation, however, was unharmed and he received a relatively light sentence of probation, community service and fines. It marked the beginning, however, of an increasingly volatile period in his marriage that would culminate in 1994 when Nicole and friend Ronald Goldman were murdered outside her home, only a few miles away from Simpson's. His seemingly airtight alibi quickly began to unravel and after the LAPD announced their suspicions, Al Cowlings, Simpson's life long friend, led police on a 60-mile slow speed chase down the freeways of Los Angeles with a distraught Simpson in the backseat threatening suicide. The media obsession that followed the chase, viewed by 95 million Americans, was unprecedented and unstoppable. The trial that followed lasted until October 1995 and ended with Simpson's acquittal despite blood evidence that pointed to Simpson's guilt.

The country's obsession over his guilt or innocence became clearly divided along racial lines following the highly publicized acquittal. Simpson was seen as untouchable because of his celebrity and wealth. His "dream team" of defense lawyers were accused of playing to the country's racial prejudices and the LAPD was again painted as a racist police force that used Simpson as an opportunity to plant evidence on an extremely popular African-American. However, it became clear that Simpson's extremely lucrative career as a corporate pitchman was over. He had fallen out of the good graces of an increasingly divided and disbelieving American public. His many attempts to publicly declare his innocence fell largely on deaf ears. The civil trial that followed, in 1997, found Simpson liable and order him to pay $33.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

Awards and Accomplishments

1965 Named All-American collegiate football player
1967 Named Outstanding Player in the Rose Bowl
1968 Wins Walter Camp Memorial Trophy
1968 Wins Maxwell Memorial Trophy
1968 Wins Heisman Trophy
1970 Named Collegiate Player of the Decade by ABC
1970 Named to AFC All-star team
1972 Named Most Valuable Player in AFC
1973 Named NFL's Most Valuable Player
1973 Breaks single season rushing record
1973 Named Hickok Belt Professional Athlete of the Year
1979 Named NFL Player of the Decade by Pro Football Monthly
1983 Inducted into College Football Hall of Fame
1985 Inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame
1993 Inducted into Rose Bowl Hall of Fame
1994 Inducted into USC Hall of Fame

Where Is He Now?

Simpson moved to Florida and regained custody of the two young children he had with Nicole. He's had a few minor brushes with the law but has generally kept to himself. Playing golf and caring for his young children, Simpson continues to periodically defend his innocence and insist that he still has the public's support. Most recently, Simpson was fined $130 for speeding through a manatee zone in a powerboat near Miami.

The details of Simpson's private life paint a picture of a man painfully out of touch with reality. Although he had remained an extremely popular figure after his retirement, his charisma and "good guy" persona could no longer carry him in the aftermath of the trial. Simpson's prospects are slim. His gridiron glory is a tarnished memory and his future forever clouded by the events of the mid-nineties.



Contemporary Black Biography, Vol. 15 Detroit: Gale Research, 1997.

St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. Detroit: St. James Press, 2000.


"Jury Acquits O.J. Simpson in Road Rage Trial." Miami Herald (October 24, 2001).

"A Look Back at the Glory Days." Sports Illustrated (June 27, 1994): 32.

"O.J. Simpson: A Cultural Icon." Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service (June 17, 1994).

"O.J. in S. Florida to Rebuild Career." South Florida Business Journal (March 2, 2001): 29.

"O.J. Gets Custody of his Kids." Jet (August 28, 2000): 48.

"O.J. Goes On the Record." Newsweek (June 23, 1997): 43.

"Race and the Simpson Verdict." Commonwealth (November 3, 1995): 19.

"Simpson Had Incredible Staying Power as a Star." Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service (June 18, 1994).

"The Man with Two Faces." People (July 4, 1994): 32.

"The Run: A long Goodbye To O.J. Simpson." Los Angeles Magazine (August, 1994): 8.

"The Sad Legacy of 1995." U.S. News & World Report (January 15, 1996): 68.

"Whistling in the Dark: You May Think O. J. Simpson Killed his Wife. But Does That Mean You Can't Be Friends?" Esquire (February, 1998): 54.

Sketch by Aric Karpinski

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Simpson, O. J.


The criminal and civil trials of Orenthal James ("O. J.") Simpson, a former football star, actor, and television personality, regarding the murders of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ronald Goldman, a local restaurant waiter, were two of the most controversial and highly publicized proceedings in U.S. legal history. The lengthy criminal trial, which ended in Simpson's acquittal for the two murders in October 1995, was nationally televised. In the civil trial, in which the estates of the two murder victims sued Simpson for damages for the victims' wrongful deaths, a jury in February 1997 awarded the heirs of the victims a total of $33.5 million. In both proceedings, but especially in the criminal trial, the issue of race played a dominant role. Simpson, an African American, was portrayed by his attorneys as another victim of the racist beliefs and behavior of members of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).

In the early hours of June 13, 1994, the bodies of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were found lying in a pool of blood outside Nicole Simpson's Brentwood, California, condominium. Both victims had been brutally stabbed to death on the evening of June 12, but there were no eyewitnesses. After the slayings, Nicole Simpson's dog was found wandering around the upscale neighborhood with bloody paws.

Simpson voluntarily gave an interview to LAPD detectives the day after the murder. Five days after the murders, LAPD charged Simpson with the deaths, citing a trail of evidence they said linked the celebrity to the crime scene, including a bloody glove found outside the condominium that allegedly matched one found at Simpson's estate. On the day Simpson was to surrender to police, he and a friend, Al C. Cowlings, disappeared. Simpson left behind a note professing his love for Nicole, claiming his innocence, and implying that he would commit suicide. Police traced calls from Simpson's cellular phone, locating him in a vehicle traveling on a Los Angeles freeway. The ensuing slow-speed chase, which was nationally televised from helicopter cameras, ended back at Simpson's Brentwood home, where he was arrested.

Simpson's criminal trial began on January 25, 1995. He had assembled a team of lawyers that included robert l. shapiro, johnnie l. cochran jr., a leading Los Angeles defense attorney, f. lee bailey, a nationally known criminal defense attorney, alan m. dershowitz, a Harvard law professor, Gerald F. Uelman, the dean of Stanford University Law School, and Barry Scheck and Peter J. Neufeld, New York attorneys skilled in handling dna evidence. The group of prosecutors from the Los Angeles county attorney's office was led by marcia r. clark and Christopher A. Darden. Presiding at the trial was Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito.

In its opening statements the prosecution argued that Simpson's history of domestic violence against Nicole Brown Simpson showed a link to her murder. His pattern of abuse and his need to control his former wife culminated, according to Clark, in her murder, "the final and ultimate act of control." Goldman was murdered, continued Clark, because he got in the way, arriving at the Brentwood condominium to return a pair of misplaced eyeglasses at the same time that Simpson was attacking Nicole Brown Simpson.

The defense team, which Cochran dominated, asserted that the LAPD fabricated the physical evidence and that Simpson had been on his way to a golf outing in Chicago when the crimes were committed.

The prosecution presented the testimony of neighbors in the vicinity of the murder scene and of a limousine driver who arrived early at Simpson's home that night to establish that Simpson had time to commit the murders and return home shortly after the driver arrived. It also introduced the "bloody glove" found behind Simpson's guest house, a glove that matched one found at the crime scene. The prosecution called DNA experts to testify that blood found at the crime scene matched Simpson's blood and that blood from both of the victims was found in Simpson's vehicle and on socks found in his bedroom. In addition, a bloody shoe print found at the crime scene appeared to match an expensive brand of shoes that Simpson had owned, but which could not be found.

The defense team aggressively challenged almost every prosecution witness but leveled its harshest attacks on the credibility of the LAPD. Scheck attacked the way the blood and fiber evidence was collected and suggested that the police had used blood from a sample given by the defendant to concoct false evidence. Scheck and Neufeld also challenged the credibility of the prosecution's DNA experts, subjecting the jury to weeks of highly technical discussion of DNA analysis.

The defense also argued that the police had rushed to judgment that Simpson was the prime suspect. Cochran and Bailey cross-examined the police officers who had gone to Simpson's home early on the morning after the murders. These officers had not sought a search warrant but went into the residence based on the belief that Simpson himself might have been the target of

the murderer. The defense challenged this justification and attempted to show that one of the officers, Mark Fuhrman, was a racist who planted the bloody glove that morning. Events in the trial confirmed that Fuhrman had lied under oath when he said he had not said the word "nigger" in the past ten years. As the prosecution case proceeded, the defense used every opportunity to demonstrate to the predominantly African American jury that the police had engaged in a conspiracy to frame Simpson.

The dramatic point of the trial was the prosecution's request that Simpson try on the bloody gloves. Simpson, wearing thin plastic gloves, strained to pull on the leather gloves and announced that they were too small and did not fit. This proved to be a damaging incident for the prosecution. In his closing argument, Cochran repeatedly stated, "If the gloves don't fit, you must acquit."

In October 1995, after 266 days of trial, the jury found Simpson not guilty of the murders. Cochran, in his closing argument, had implored the jury to acquit Simpson and send a message to the LAPD and white America that African Americans should not be the victims of a racist police and justice system. According to opinion polls, his argument sounded a strong chord in African Americans, because a majority of them believed that Simpson was innocent. Polls also showed that, in contrast, most whites believed that Simpson was guilty.

Despite the acquittal, Simpson had to defend himself in a civil lawsuit filed by the parents of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. In contrast to the criminal trial, the civil case was not televised, thereby reducing the intensity of the press coverage. In addition, the plaintiffs had the opportunity to depose many witnesses before trial, including Simpson, who did not testify at the criminal trial.

The plaintiffs' lead attorney, Daniel M. Petrocelli, fiercely examined Simpson at the deposition and again at the trial, pointing out the inconsistencies in his various accounts. Petrocelli mocked Simpson's contention that he had never beaten Nicole Brown Simpson, despite police reports, photographs, and testimony of other witnesses. The most crucial piece of evidence became the bloody shoe print at the crime scene. At his deposition Simpson said he had never owned a pair of the "ugly-assed shoes" that had made the shoe print. Simpson repeated this claim at trial, but Petrocelli produced thirty-one photographs of Simpson at public events showing that he had indeed worn the exact model of shoes prior to the murders. Finally Petrocelli argued that Simpson committed the murders because he could not control his temper: when Nicole Brown Simpson rejected him for good in the spring of 1994, he erupted in the same uncontrollable rage that had caused him to lash out at her in the past, only this time he used a knife.

In February 1997 the jury awarded the plaintiffs $8.5 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages. The jury awarded the punitive damages based on an expert's testimony that Simpson could earn $25 million over the rest of his life by trading on his notoriety with book deals, movie contracts, speaking tours, and memorabilia sales. The jury did not want Simpson to profit from the crimes. Superior Court Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki, who had conducted the trial, upheld the damages award. Simpson announced that he planned to appeal the case.

The plaintiffs obtained a court order permitting the seizure of many of Simpson's assets to pay the multimillion-dollar judgment. Simpson, who had regained custody of his two children that he had with Nicole Brown Simpson, claimed he was near financial insolvency. Nevertheless, the plaintiffs' attorneys returned to court numerous times in 1997 seeking disclosure of Simpson's assets, contending that he was attempting to hide them.

further readings

Alschuler, Albert W. 1998. "How To Win the Trial of the Century: The Ethics of Lord Brougham and the O.J. Simpson Defense Team." McGeorge Law Review 29 (spring).

Cotterill, Janet. 2003. Language and Power in Court: A Linguistic Analysis of the O.J. Simpson Trial. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Dershowitz, Alan M. 1997. Reasonable Doubts: The Criminal Justice System and the O.J. Simpson Case. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Schuetz, Janice, and Lin S. Lilley, ed. 1999. The O.J. Simpson Trials: Rhetoric, Media, and the Law. Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ. Press.

Stuntz, William J. 2001. "O.J. Simpson, Bill Clinton, and the Transsubstantive Fourth Amendment." Harvard Law Review 114 (January).


Cameras in Court; DNA Evidence.

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Simpson, O. J.

O. J. Simpson:(Orenthal James Simpson), 1947–, American football player, b. San Francisco. As a running back for the Univ. of Southern California, he won the Heisman Trophy as the best college player of 1968. The "Juice" played with the Buffalo Bills (1969–77) and San Francisco 49ers (1978–79) and rushed for 11,236 yards during his professional career. Simpson set season records (now broken) for most yards gained (2,003; 1973) and most touchdowns (23; 1975). He later became a sportscaster and actor.

In 1994 he was charged with the brutal murder of his ex-wife and her friend, but he was acquitted in 1995 after a media-saturated trial that highlighted racial tensions and divisions in American society. In 1997 a civil jury levied a huge wrongful-death award against him in a suit brought by the victims' families. Simpson was again the center of controversy in 2006 when it was revealed that a book by him, entitled If I Did It, which its publisher, Judith Regan, said she considered his confession, was to be published, and a television interview timed to coincide with the book's publication was to be aired. Public outcry led Rupert Murdoch, whose companies were to publish the book and broadcast the interview, to order the cancellation of both. In 2007 Simpson was charged with several felonies in connection with his participation in an armed robbery in a Las Vegas involving sports memorabilia that he contended had been stolen from him; he was convicted and sentenced to a minimum of nine years in prison in 2008.

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Simpson, O.J.

Simpson, O.J. ( Orenthal James) (1947– ) US football player. He made his name as a running back with the Buffalo Bills in the National Football League from 1969, and set a single season rushing record in 1973 with 1,831m (2,003 yards). After football, he enjoyed a successful acting career. In 1994 he was arrested on a charge of murdering his wife and her male friend. The jury found him not guilty, but in 1997 a civil jury found him liable for wrongful death, and he was fined US$30 million.

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