How good a player was OJ Simpson

Black Sheep of Sport: The Deep Fall of American Football Player O.J. Simpson

O. J. Simpson had everything to be an icon. To this day he is one of the greatest sports stars in the USA. But fame has faded, fear and contempt have given way. Four months ago, Simpson was named to the selection team of the best American football players of all time. But he was only released from prison in 2017. And it was thanks to the jury at the Los Angeles court that he was released at all.

Simpson was born in San Francisco in 1947. As a teenager he was a member of a gang, became its leader and was briefly imprisoned. But Orenthal James Simpson, as his full name is called, is also a fantastic athlete. The first important fork in his life is a sharp turn. Simpson gets it.

O.J. Simpson was one of the NFL's superstars

From here on, his story long sounds like the American dream. Simpson is named the best footballer in the college league, delivering on the promise made by the sport's upcoming superstar. At 22, the running back made it into the NFL professional league, was elected to the all-star team six times and was voted the league's most valuable player in 1973. Simpson breaks records. But he never comes close to the championship, his team is mediocre at best.

But Simpson doesn't need a title to be popular. Even as an active athlete, he played in Hollywood films, and after his career he became a TV expert and advertising face. And that in an America in which African-Americans like him were strictly separated from whites in his childhood. Simpson seems to be a role model in the fight for equality. But he is not up to this role.

Racism plays a role in the O.J. Simpson plays a central role

Simpson makes it easy for whites to love him. He is accused of being downright submissive to them. He adapted the behavior of the white upper class, denied his origin. "I'm not black, I'm O.J.", he is supposed to have said. And yet it should suddenly be his skin color that almost brings him to prison. That is one version of the story of the murder trial against him. Another says: Without his lawyer playing the “race card”, as it was called at the time, Simpson might even have been waiting for the lethal injection. The question of whether Simpson should have murdered his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her boyfriend Ronald Goldman divides the USA in the nineties: in black and white.

Shortly after the two were stabbed, Simpson comes under suspicion. The highway chase prior to his arrest is televised live nationwide as a special. At the start of the 1995 trial, the burden of proof against Simpson looks overwhelming. But: The police in his home town of Los Angeles are riddled with racists, including officials involved in the investigation against Simpson. His lawyer Johnnie Cochran succeeds in getting many African-Americans to be part of the lay jury, which at the end of the process has to decide on the question of guilt. He and various other star lawyers whom Simpson had hired in his defense paint the picture of a racist conspiracy against their client.

O.J. Simpson and the glove

Prosecutors rely on Simpson being known to be jealous and abusive, and present testimony and evidence of DNA. And a glove that was found at the scene and is said to belong to the perpetrator. Simpson tries it on in the courtroom. It's a few sizes too small for him. And the jury acquitted him.

He doesn't have to go to jail until 2008. He was sentenced to 33 years for an armed robbery, but was released on parole after nine. To this day, many Americans - especially whites - are convinced that Simpson is a murderer. The perpetrator was never found. The trial has completely erased Simpson's glamor. He is no longer a role model.