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OJ Simpson’s Complicated Legacy

OJ Simpson was an American football player, broadcaster, movie star, and a convicted murder. Let’s dive into his legacy.

Orenthal James Simpson 1947-2024. Credit: Shutterstock/Bert Sherkow

As you may be aware, OJ Simpson passed away on April 10, 2024. Many knew him for the infamous murder trial of his ex-wife Nicole Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. This trial shocked the nation as the whole country sat on the edge of their seat.

However, many are unaware of OJ’s life before and after the trial. He was a massive football star and held many accolades in the NCAA and the NFL. Additionally, OJ had an extensive movie and television career before the trial in 1995.

OJ’s legacy is an extensive one, but it is important to look at all the highlights and the lowlights. Here is a summary of OJ Simpson’s career, in sport, in television and movies, in court, and in his last days.

College Career

OJ’s college career started off at the City College of San Francisco. He played there for two years before transferring to the University of Southern California. During his college career, OJ would double letter in football and track & field.

He led the league in rushing yards with a total of 1,709 yards, and set an NCAA single-season record. OJ established himself with the most carriers in a single season (334) and earned himself 22 touchdowns. This earned him his Heisman Trophy after the 1968 season.

In 1985, OJ Simpson was inducted into the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame.

Time as a Buffalo Bill

Simpson spent the majority of his time in the NFL in Buffalo, New York. During his time there, he became the first player in the NFL to surpass 2,000 yards in a single season. He averaged 143.1 yards per game and recorded career highs in rushing touchdowns with a total of 16.

OJ Simpson in action. Credit: NFL Films/YouTube

During the years 1972-1976, OJ dominated the NFL. In the time frame, he totaled 7,699 rushing yards, the most in the league during that time. No other player would come within 2,500 yards of OJ’s total.

During those five seasons, OJ also accumulated 54 total touchdowns with the Buffalo Bills. Eventually, he wrapped up his career back in San Francisco with the 49ers.

Ending Back in San Francisco with the 49ers

Simpson finished his football career back where it began, in San Francisco. His body was beginning to break down, specifically in his knees and joints. His missed almost all of the 1979 training camp. But there was more than knee pain keeping him from the field.

OJ’s daughter, Aaren, unfortunately passed away that August. She was only 23 months old and drowned in the family pool right before her second birthday. The rest of the season was a shaky one for OJ. In the books, it would go down as his worst season in the NFL. He retired after the season ended, after a total of 11 years in the NFL.

Broadcasting

Another first that OJ had in his career was what he did post-football. He was one of the first athletes to transition into sports broadcasting and sideline reporting after retirement.

OJ broadcasting for ABC. Credit: The Howard Stern Show/YouTube

OJ primarily worked with NBC, but also did some work with ABC. At the time, no professional athlete made the transition to work in sports communication after their athletic career.

Flashing forward to today, this is almost the instinctive move that athletes make after retirement. OJ found a passion for being in front of the camera, which led to his next career move into the movie industry.

Movie and TV Career

OJ Simpson transitioned into a television and film personality role after his broadcasting career. Many remember him for his role in “The Towering Inferno” and installations of The Naked Gun.

In fact, OJ Simpson was considered for a role in “The Terminator” (1984); however, producers were worried he would come off as “too nice” in a serious role.

OJ Simpson in “The Towering Inferno.” Credit: DisasterOnline/YouTube

Furthermore, OJ made guest appearances on shows like “Here’s Lucy” and “Adventures in Wonderland.” On the TV front, OJ was most seen in “1st & Ten,” a show that ran from 1986-1991. He appeared in 67 episodes.

The Infamous Trial

It would be unfair to not include a summary of the infamous murder trial. The trial of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman is more notably known as the OJ Trial. On June 13, 1994, Nicole and Ron were found stabbed to death in front of Nicole’s townhouse by neighbors.

There was an abundance of evidence to suspect OJ had a level of involvement in the murder of Nicole and Ron. This includes his response when he was notified about his ex-wife’s death.

“Who killed her?”

OJ Simpson

Obviously, a very presumptuous response.

Additionally, there were pieces of evidence found on the scene of the crime which linked OJ to the murder, including a bloody glove, a hat, and a bloody shoe print. The blood on the glove belonged to OJ and Nicole. Furthermore, OJ’s hair was found in the hat, and the shoe print matched a pair of shoes OJ owned; in both size and sole pattern.

Another piece of this case that does not favor OJ is the “high speed” chase in his white Ford Bronco. The chase, which actually only topped out at about 60 miles per hour, was watched live by millions only five days after the murders. Allegedly, OJ sat in the back seat with a gun to his own head. Al Cowlings, the driver, said OJ threatened to shoot himself if Cowlings stopped the car.

OJ’s white infamous white bronco. Credit: Shutterstock/Joe Seer

Not Guilty

However, OJ was found Not Guilty after the trial. The evidence above seems to make the case a no brainer, but OJ’s defense team was very strategic.

OJ’s defense used law enforcement racism as a reason for OJ’s charges and wanted to prove police’s rush in judgement. This was one of their biggest points during the case. In fact, they used LAPD detective Mark Fuhrman as a figure for law enforcement racism. They placed an audio recording of Fuhrman using racial slurs 40 times in the single recording. Fuhrman was the first man to walk into OJ’s estate after the murder of Nicole and Ron.

The defense team suggested that Fuhrman actually planted that evidence which linked OJ to the murders.

Also, OJ would try on the glove in court as evidence against his involvement in the case. The opposing side was against this, considering the glove had been frozen and thawed multiple times between the murders and the court date.

OJ trying on the glove in court. Credit: CBS News/YouTube

The glove did not fit. Leading to the famous line of the case—

If it does not fit, you must acquit.”

OJ Simpson’s lawyer, Malcolm LaVergne 

However, OJ would lose the civil case for the wrongful deaths of Nicole and Ron. The jury awarded the families 33.5 million dollars in damages. This is because a civil case only requires proof by a “preponderance of the evidence” rather than a criminal case’s requirement of proof “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Life after Murder Trial

After the trials, OJ became an infamous figure in pop culture. He did not try to “stay low.” In fact, he actually wrote a book about the murder trial called “If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer” in 2008.

His trouble with the law did not end with the murder trial. In 2007, OJ was connected to an armed robbery case in Las Vegas, Nevada. The goal was to steal sports memorabilia of his own trophies from the Palace Station hotel.

Credit: Shutterstock/Joe Seer

He was convicted guilty on 12 counts of armed robbery and kidnapping.

The Last Days of OJ Simpson

While his murder trial divided the nation, his death came as a shock around the country. He refused hospice care as his health declined, even after a year of knowing he was living with prostate cancer.

While family and friends began to give their goodbyes in the last days of his life, OJ had close family sign Nondisclosure Agreements (NDAs). He also requested that no phones would be allowed in his estate. People speculate a last-moment confession of the murders. Others think he simply wanted privacy, but the circumstances seem very suspicious.

Orenthal James Simpson lived a complicated life filled with career highs and lows. He shaped the football world to what it is today, as well as the broadcasting and reporting industry. However this would be overshadowed by the divisive murder trial of 1994. OJ left a complicated legacy; a legacy which has the ability to inspire many while in the same breath, confuse many.

Written By

I am a student-athlete from Tampa, Florida and I am currently working toward my Bachelor of Science in Sport Management with an emphasis in Marketing, looking to graduate in the Spring of 2025. After university, I hope to join the sport industry and specialize in Game Day Operations and Event Organization while continuing my love for sport by coaching soccer in my free time.

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