Commonwealth Journal

Columns

June 13, 2014

20 years since the fall of a national hero

Somerset —

If you were a child of the 70s, you probably were a fan of O.J. Simpson. The angular running back with smooth-as-silk moves and power to boot was the first African-American athlete who really transcended racial barriers.
Whether you were black or white, you wanted to be like The Juice.
Two decades ago I watched in stunned silence with the rest of the nation as Simpson and longtime friend and teammate Al Cowlings made their way along Southern California freeways in the infamous white Ford Bronco.
The details that rolled in that evening were shocking. Simpson was a person of interest in the brutal murders of his ex-wife, Nicole, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.
Simpson would be apprehended and charged in the murders — and that set the stage for “The Trial of the Century.”
The subsequent battle between Simpson’s “dream team” of legal minds and the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office was the first big trial in the era of 24-hour news. The visage of Simpson trying on the glove allegedly worn by the killer is iconic.
“If it don’t fit you must acquit,” is a phrase that has become legend.
But aside from the prime time drama, the trial of Simpson exposed a nation that still suffered from racial division. White and black people looked at the facts surrounding the case and saw different realities.
Blacks perceived the pursuit of a conviction as an attack on Simpson’s race. Whites could not understand why the star athlete should get a pass “just because he’s black.”
There was a great deal of animosity when Simpson was found not guilty.
But karma was not kind to O.J.
Fred Goldman, the father of the slain Ronald Goldman, along with the family of Simpson’s ex-wife, won a $33.5 million judgment against Simpson in civil court.

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