It has been argued that the trial of Orenthal James (O.J.) Simpson for murder was the defining cultural experience of the U.S. in the 1990s. It dominated the front pages of newspapers in the U.S. and many other countries for several months. Indeed, Simpson was for a period of time probably the most talked about person in the world, but very few of the discussions were about his athletic career.
Until his internationally famous trial, Simpson was a relative unknown outside the U.S. A very wealthy and highly decorated former professional football player, Simpson made the transition to acting and television commentating after his illustrious football career. However, when he was charged in June of 1994 with the murder of his estranged wife Nicole Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman, and after his dramatic suicide getaway attempt captured by television cameras, Simpson became known throughout the world almost overnight.
Simpson was born in San Francisco in 1947 to a poor family. His father abandoned the family, and it was his mother who encouraged Simpson to pursue sport, mainly to compensate for some physical problems he had developed as a child. Simpson became a solid baseball and football player early in his life and went on to enroll in the City College of San Francisco, where he continued to play impressive football. With offers from over fifty other universities to play football, Simpson went to the University of Southern California. There, he played out a distinguished college career and earned himself the 1968 Heisman Trophy for top college player in the U.S.
Simpson began his professional career by dropping out of school before graduation and immediately signing a three-year endorsement deal with Chevrolet for $250,000. Drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 1969, the first few years of Simpson’s professional career were undistinguished ones. However, from 1972 on, a new coach for the team made Simpson the central figure in the team’s offence. As a result, Simpson would go on to shatter several running records in the National Football League. At the conclusion of his career, Simpson was inducted into the Professional Football Players’ Hall of Fame.
After his professional football career, stories about Simpson’s alleged abuse of his wife began circulating. Nicole Simpson made the first call to police after an incident at a 1989 New Year’s Eve party, in which Simpson was fined $200. Over the next few years Nicole would make thirty emergency calls to the police, none of which led to formal charges. After the incidents surrounding Nicole’s death and Simpson’s subsequent flight from police, an exhaustive months-long trial ensued, leading to Simpson’s famous acquittal. More than just a murder trial, however, O.J. Simpson’s trial highlighted the racial tensions in the U.S. In fact, history will undoubtedly remember Simpson more for his trial than for his illustrious football career.