Greg Tomlin: A national obsession 30 years later shows the country’s flaws

Apr 12, 2024, 12:15 PM

OJ Simpson...

FILE - In this June 15, 1995, file photo, murder defendant, O.J. Simpson grimaces as he tries on one of the leather gloves prosecutors say he wore the night his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were murdered, during the Simpson double-murder trial in Los Angeles. A lawyer for O.J. Simpson in Las Vegas says the imprisoned former football star isn’t happy with portrayals he’s seen in ads and interviews about a cable TV series focusing on his 1995 murder acquittal in Los Angeles. Simpson won’t be able to see the show, "The People v. O.J. Simpson," as Nevada prisons don’t carry the FX network, which debuts the 10-part show on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. (Sam Mircovich via AP, Pool, File)

(Sam Mircovich via AP, Pool, File)

O.J. Simpson — athlete, actor, and acquitted murderer, died from cancer at the age of 76. During the course of his life, Simpson achieved fame, fortune and accolades for what he did on the football field. But, he’ll be remembered primarily for his trial over the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman.

Simpson’s court case was a TV spectacle that paved the way for the media landscape of today. It became a watershed moment for race relations in America and a cautionary tale about the idolization of pro athletes.

30 years removed from the so-called “Trial of the Century,” many of us have imprinted in our collective memory a white Ford Bronco, black gloves, charismatic lawyers & various witnesses, and catchphrases” “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit,” and ultimately, “Not Guilty.” Though amusing and trivial to most people now, these details should never overshadow the brutal and bloody murders of two human beings who never received due justice.

Background story: O.J. Simpson, fallen football hero acquitted of murder in ‘trial of the century,’ dies at 76

The O.J. trial was a national obsession in 1995, garnering copious amounts of media coverage. It’s no coincidence that cable news exploded just a few years later.

The legal proceedings helped prove that television can make any subject matter entertaining: real-life lies, murders, lawyers, defendants, plaintiffs, juries — all elements of a never-ending vaudeville act you can find on television with the click of a button — or in today’s world, the swiping of a finger on a touchscreen.

Just a few years removed from the Rodney King riots of 1992, the O.J. trial also represented an inflection point for race relations in America.

In a time when a large portion of the black community was feeling a lack of equal treatment under the law, the case highlighted differing opinions, along racial lines, of America’s legal system.

Had O.J. been found guilty, many in the black community may have interpreted the outcome as symbolic of prejudice inherent to the courts. Yet, in spite of overwhelming evidence against Simpson, the not guilty verdict led many to believe facts (however stubborn they may be) were now secondary to considerations about public outcry or potential fallout.

Related news: Andy Warhol portrait of OJ Simpson goes on auction block

The 2020 case involving the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis cop Derik Chauvin tells us these issues are still not settled in America today.

Finally, O.J.’s fall from famous American to infamous American shows us the foolish rationale in turning pro athletes into idols and role moles merely for their athletic prowess. Pro sports are more popular than ever in the country today, but we’d do well to remember that the ability to hit, throw, or shoot a ball at a high level solely showcases a person’s skill level at a given activity.

It assumes nothing about character, integrity, or moral fiber, which matters most.

I hope O.J. Simpson’s memory doesn’t merely amount to endless trivial jokes told on late-night comedy shows. His legacy involves a heinous crime he almost certainly committed and got away with. Americans should also reflect on what that event revealed to us about entertainment, race relations, and undeserved hero worship.

Greg Tomlin is a producer and a fill-in host on AM 770 KTTH and KIRO Newsradio.


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Greg Tomlin: A national obsession 30 years later shows the country’s flaws