O.J. Simpson O.J. Simpson

In an alternate universe, Thursday’s top NFL story would have opened like this: “O.J. Simpson, one of the most electrifying running backs in NFL history, died Wednesday at age 76.”

We don’t live in an alternate universe, however, but one in which Simpson allegedly murdered ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her male friend in June 1994. A jury acquitted him in 1995 in the so-called ‘Trial of the Century.” Yet that incident permanently destroyed his reputation. The once-popular athlete turned actor, Monday Night Football broadcaster and jovial advertising pitchman would be forever known as “O.J. Simpson, who was acquitted in a 1995 murder trial …”

That’s exactly how the media remembered Simpson Thursday.

The New York Post lede: “OJ Simpson, the once-beloved NFL superstar and Hollywood actor who was acquitted in a 1995 murder trial that gripped the nation …”

Sports Illustrated: “Former NFL running back O.J. Simpson, who was acquitted of murder in one of the most high-profile court cases in American history …”

ESPN: O.J. Simpson, the decorated football superstar and Hollywood actor who was acquitted of charges he killed his former wife and her friend but later was found liable in a separate civil trial, has died.”

The Athletic: “O.J. Simpson, known for his prowess on the football field with USC and the Buffalo Bills, and later for the criminal and civil trials in the deaths of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman …”

Although a jury of his peers found Simpson not guilty on those murder charges, a civil trial for wrongful death later found him liable and ordered him to pay the victims’ families $33.5 million.

Various polls have shown an overwhelming majority of Americans disagreed with those not guilty verdicts, largely broken down along racial lines; roughly 80 percent of white Americans believed Simpson committed the murders, while just more than half of Black Americans felt that way.

Leading sports figures echoed that public sentiment in the wake of Simpson’s death. NFL Network host Kyle Brandt posted a video captioned, “Thoughts on OJ Simpson’s legacy …” early Thursday that featured him saying, “murderer.” He later had second thoughts and deleted the post.

Stephen A. Smith said, “If I was on the jury, he would’ve been under the damn jail.”

Americans are deemed to be innocent until proven guilty. If they are acquitted, they are supposed to be regarded as innocent. Yet in the court of public opinion, Simpson will forever be guilty. It’a almost as if a disclaimer should be added somewhere high in his obituary: “Simpson was found not guilty of those murders, but everyone knows what really happened, right?”

And so the majority of videos and photos the media displayed of Simpson on Thursday showed him at the trial, or hidden away in the white Bronco in the bizarre police chase, or in his later years. Few showed him in his Heisman-winning days at USC, or in his record-setting glory days with the Buffalo Bills in the 1970s.

Even those who thought the jury got it right had unkind things to say about Simpson. Author Marc Lamont Hill tweeted, “His acquittal for murder was the correct and necessary result of a racist criminal legal system. But he’s still a monster, not a martyr.”

The Pro Football Hall of Fame’s release on Simpson’s death did not mention his legal woes at all, noting “O.J. Simpson, the first player to rush for more than 2,000 yards in an NFL season, died April 10, 2024, of cancer, according to his family.”

Many obits tagged on Simpson’s NFL highlights and/or statistics at the end of the story, almost as an afterthought, so we’ll do that here:

Career rushing yards: 11,236

TDs: 75

Murder Charges: 2

Murder Charge Acquittals: 2

Legacy: 0

About Arthur Weinstein

Arthur spends his free time traveling around the U.S. to sporting events, state and national parks, and in search of great restaurants off the beaten path.