The Washington Post shared a photo of O.J. Simpson sitting at his parole hearing with his lawyer with a smile that says it all. Simpson has been granted parole after serving time for a 2007 crime that involved guns and the football star’s own memorabilia. Though he was almost a household name for his football career, he became a household name for another reason entirely in the mid-nineties.
O.J. Simpson did not go to prison for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole and her co-worker Ron Goldman, a crime and trial that catapulted cable-news coverage, reality TV—both because of the fascination with the celebrity trial and because of the offspring of one of Simpson’s lawyers, who grew up to be the biggest names in reality television—and which continues to be the subject of debate 22-years later. Just this past year, a mini-series depicted the details of the behind-the-scenes action of the trial.
An estimated 100 million viewers watched the jury announce Simpson’s acquittal in October of 1995. That jury seemingly took Simpson’s defense attorney’s advice to heart: If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.
Simpson couldn’t stay away from the world of crime, however, and is currently serving a prison sentence for a different case, from 2007. In September of that year, he and a group of men held up Palace Station hotel and casino with guns and stole sports memorabilia. Simpson claims he did so because the memorabilia was his property and that it had been stolen from him. He was charged with multiple felonies, including kidnapping, conspiracy, assault, robbery and use of a deadly weapon. Two of the men turned witness against Simpson and the remaining co-conspirators, resulting in conviction.
He was paroled on some of the minor charges in 2013 but remains imprisoned.
Controversy arose this week after reports came out that Simpson was caught masturbating in his prison cell; those reports have since been revealed as fake news.
Simpson appeared before the parole board once again today to find out if he could be released as early as October of this year or if he would have to face up to 30 more years in prison.
At today’s hearing, he stated: “I haven’t made any excuses in the 9 years that I’ve been here and I’m not trying to make an excuse now.”
In making his case for freedom, Simpson told the Nevada parole board about a class he had taken called “alternatives to violence” and stated that he had been requested “many times” to step in as mediator when problems came up between fellow inmates.
He stated: “I’ve done my time and I’ve done it as well and respectfully as I can.”
Both his daughter and one of his victims from the Nevada case testified in favor of his release.
Their testimony and Simpson’s own, as well as the way he’s spent his time in prison appear to have worked. He was, indeed, granted parole and could be released as early as October 1st.
His parole hearing garnered not quite as much as his trial in the 90s, but, as the Post put it: “O.J. Simpson is perhaps the only story that could force cable news to cut away from merry-go-round coverage of President Trump, Russia and the health care meltdown in Congress.”
As stated above, his trial over the slaying of the former wife he had abused helped lay the foundation for all-day news coverage, starting with his slow-speed chase in the infamous white Bronco. There were racial implications complexly interwoven into the story of a black male celebrity accused of murdering his white ex-wife; Simpson allegedly had little to do with other black people at the time and his case came on the heels of one of the frequent moments of boiling-over racial tensions in this country.
His trial also represented the difference in treatment by the justice system when someone is a rich, celebrated celebrity versus when someone is not, especially if they are black.
Convoluting that point, the preoccupation with his trials and the trials of other black celebrities like Bill Cosby also represent that being black and famous is not a total immunity. Donald Trump has also been accused of assault and harassment by countless women (among other things) and has not faced trial and got elected president. Johnny Depp was accused by ex-wife Amber Heard of abuse and his lawyers and fans harassed and shamed her into withdrawing her allegations and falling silent.
Further complicating the story is the fact that Simpson was convicted not of a double-homicide it is hard to prove he didn’t commit, but of armed robbery years later. These stories seem to point, at least in part, at how this country views women and property; women are often treated like property, as in the property of their husband, but clearly the jury and judicial system placed higher value on sports paraphernalia than on the life of a woman, especially when it seemed that that woman may have been dishonoring the husband who owned her still in people’s minds by stepping out with another man.
A writer for hiddenremote.com pointed out the moment in Simpson’s 95 trial coverage that has always stuck with me as well: Oprah’s reaction.
“At that point in time, [Oprah] had been vocal about her own battle with domestic violence and abuse in her childhood years…she’s holding it all in because she knows there’s nothing she can do. The system has failed.”
This writer hopes Simpson has learned the lessons he claims to have learned and that the justice system has not merely dealt him another easy out because of his status. The cases of O.J. Simpson will continue to be discussed for years because beneath their reality television intrigue lies what perhaps makes reality television so enthralling to begin with: the truths it can show and the questions it can raise about multiple aspects of our society and who we are as a species.