Stephen A. Smith First Take O.J. Simpson Screen grab: ESPN’s First Take

Following the announcement of O.J. Simpson’s death on Thursday, the sports media world has wrestled with how to eulogize the former running back.

On the one hand, Simpson was one of the greatest athletes of his time and a personality who transcended sports. On the other, he is best known for being accused of brutally murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ron Goldman. And while he was acquitted in a criminal trial, a civil trial found him responsible for both deaths.

Stephen A. Smith was scheduled to have the day off on Thursday as ESPN focused on its coverage of The Masters. But following the news of Simpson’s death, Smith joined First Take and did his best to contextualize the complicated nature of the Hall of Fame running back’s legacy.

“There’s no balance to it. You can remember and you can engage in recall by bringing up his athletic prowess and his tremendous career as a football player,” Smith said. “But it all pales in comparison to him being perceived as a double murderer.

“When you think about O.J. Simpson, you may remember that he’s a football player, but what you remember most is the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. And you think, obviously, of him. There’s no way around that.”

Smith continued to discuss the cultural impact of Simpson’s criminal trial, including the birth of the court TV industry, Johnnie Cochran’s status as a celebrity and the botched prosecution of what many considered to be a slam-dunk case. Ultimately, Smith said that you can’t ignore that it all came at the expense of two lives, which the ESPN host believes Simpson was responsible for ending.

“Most people believe that he committed those murders,” Smith said. “I know that if I was on the jury, he would have been under the damn jail. I know that much. I believed he was guilty.”

Smith’s take on Simpson’s complicated legacy certainly isn’t unique. After all, there are some subjects we don’t need to embrace debate for.

About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.