What a Free O.J Means to Me (nothing good!)

A few days ago I was working in my second office, Decatur’s Mellow Mushroom pizzeria, when I looked up from my work to the televisions on the wall and saw a familiar face. It was O.J Simpson, who has had a weirdly pervasive impact on my life. As a kid, I thought O.J was a quintessential nice guy and winner, a legendary Heisman Trophy winner and broadcaster who also was ubiquitous thanks to his many endorsements, like Hertz and Isotoner as well as his second (or third) career as a movie actor in films like This Looks Terrible! entry The Klansman, as well as slightly more upscale fare like The Towering Inferno and The Naked Gun. 

The night of my high school graduation, as I groused about the emptiness of my high school experience and my fear of the future, a strange, low-speed chase was on every television in the greek restaurant where my family “celebrated” my meaningless accomplishment. The chase was of course the famous Bronco chase with a desperate O.J taking himself hostage, so I will always associate my graduation with O.J fleeing justice. 

When I lived in a group home, the slightly shady but fundamentally good-hearted dude who ran it, knowing that I was obsessed with high-end sports cards (as you might imagine, I got laid all the time as a teenager), bought me a pack of very expensive cards, to the tune of seven or ten dollars. The gimmick was that every pack contained an authentic autographed card. The Holy Grail of the set was a card O.J Simpson signed while he was in prison awaiting trial for the murders of his ex-wife and Ronald Goldman. 

In an utterly uncharacteristic burst of luck, I got the sought-after Simpson card, and the man who ran the group home agreed to sell it for me for two hundred and fifty dollars, a move that helped spelled the end of his time at the group home. So Simpson lost me one father figure as a troubled teenager but about fifteen years later it helped win me the love of my life, my soulmate and the mother of my child. 

It was, funnily enough, an A.V Club article on O.J Simpson’s deeply sad, endlessly exploitative pay-per-view prank show, Juice’d in a short-lived column called Ephemereview that inspired my future wife to reach out to me, first in the comment section, and then via Facebook and real life. So if she’d never read that article my life would be in a very different, and much sadder, and much lonelier place right now. 

So when I saw that O.J Simpson was being released from prison I was surprised at how angry I got, and how many emotions his release stirred up. I think that’s partially because I have an even more intense and painful relationship with the Juice and his bizarre legacy than most people. I’ve also read his memoir, If I Did It, a weird, muddled quasi-confession, albeit veiled and theoretical, and consequently is actually a fascinatingly scathing indictment not just of O.J but of men like him, who are pathological in their misogyny and inability to see women as human beings and not just trophies and instruments for pleasure. 

Reading and writing about If I Did It caused me to hate Simpson even more than most folks do but I think I responded so strongly to the sight of Simpson smiling on television as he prepared for life as a free man because it called to mind so many other powerful men in our culture who have committed horrible crimes against women and are nevertheless rewarded and forgiven, like Donald Trump and R. Kelly and Bill Cosby and Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen and Casey Affleck and Woody Allen and plenty of other men I could mention. 

I’m sick and tired of seeing rich, powerful, evil men get away with murder, literally and metaphorically and while Simpson’s sentence was admittedly extremely harsh and punitive given the half-ass nature of the crime he was convicted of, as tardy punishment for that whole double-murder thing it’s a little on the lenient side. 

What will O.J do now that he’s free? I have no idea, but I feel justified in feeling a shiver of revulsion and sadness at his current freedom. It’s entirely possible that O.J will use his newfound freedom to track down the real killers of his ex-wife, as he vowed to do initially, but I can’t help but see his smiling face as further evidence that in Trump’s America, the bad guys frequently win and the guilty either evade punishment altogether or get off with nowhere near what they deserve. 

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