Orenthal James Simpson (OJ): Cultural Hero Redux

by Earl Smith, PhD and Angela J. Hattery, PhD

 

He deceived us once.  Will he do it again?

Orenthal James “O. J. ” Simpson, nicknamed “the Juice” is a former NCAA Collegiate football hero –having won the coveted Heisman Trophy—as well as a National Football League star running back. After football, he became a broadcaster, actor, advertising spokesman, and then a convicted armed robber and kidnapper having spent a decade in a Nevada prison.

On July 20, 2017, the Nevada Parole Board granted OJ parole from a 9 to 33 year sentence he has been serving for convictions of armed robbery and kidnapping.

Using our research on Black men and mass incarceration as well as the (lack) of opportunities for Black men exiting prison with a felony record, we explore what went wrong and what didn’t in the privileged life of Simpson such that he was tried and acquitted of the charge of homicide and later convicted of armed robbery.   We discuss the life men like OJ face as convicted felons and speculate about the ways his privilege will and will not protect him as he re-enters the free world.

We have to agree with our colleague Dr. Harry Edwards when he says that the new world OJ is re-entering –unlike the world he left when he was incarcerated nine years ago—will trip him up and we can predict that he will be in trouble within a year after his release.

Whether you care about OJ or not, what is fascinating from a researchers perspective is that long after 1994 when he was on trial for the double murder of his then X-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman, OJ has been a figure of some celebrity in American society. After the trial for which he was acquitted he quickly became a pariah across America split along racial lines.

It can be argued that Blacks rooted for the acquittal and whites did not.  (Were Blacks rooting for OJ because he was OJ or, just as important, were they just star struck and rooting for a TV celebrity)?

But it was made clear from the start of the hearing that the 1994 trial and decision were not a part of the July 2017 parole hearing at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nevada.

(It has to be mentioned here that when judge Jackie Glass issued a sentence of 33 years for “kidnapping and armed robbery” the consensus was that this was in reality a “payback” sentence for Simpson walking free from the murder trial. In essence judge Jackie Glass issued Simpson a life sentence).

Excessive.  As stated above, whether you support OJ or not, the nine years served turns out to be overly harsh given that OJ did not arm himself when he went to that Las Vegas hotel room to get back his memorabilia.

So, where are we now?

OJ Simpson, barring an infractions, will walk out of prison on October 1, 2017 a convicted felon who has to now deal with parole officers and the rules of the Nevada parole system. At 70 plus years of age, with probably few employment options, OJ had better take his $5 million in a private pension; his NFL pension estimated at $25,000 per month or $300,000 annually. Add in his Social Security benefit that he will access for the first time since going to prison which will pay him $3,538 per month, or $42,000 annually. Finally, for all those goofy movies OJ was in he has a Screen Actors Guild pension worth an undisclosed amount.  This money will allow OJ to live a comfortable post prison life unlike MOST Black men accessing re-entry.

OJ, “the Juice”, is a wealthy man. And, having access to this type of money he should–as we were previously saying above–move on with his life, re-connect with all of his kids and family.  Enjoy retirement.

The odds of this happening are slim to none.  The type of celebrity life OJ lived was expansive–see, especially, the documentary O.J.: Made in Americaand at his age why stop now.  Remember, it has been reported that OJ had a less than harsh life while locked up in Lovelock.

In conclusion we, like so many others, will be listening and watching once OJ is set free on or about October 1, 2017.

 

REFERENCES:

Morrison, Toni and Claudia Lacour. 1997. Birth of a Nation Hood: Gaze, Script, and Spectacle in the O. J. Simpson Case. NY: Pantheon Books.

Tobin, Jeffrey.  2015.  The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson. NY: Random House.

 

See more of our work:

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Policing Black Bodies: How Black Lives are Surveilled and How to Work for Change  http://amzn.to/2fr2E0t