The anniversary came and went. There was little fanfare, at least compared to the same day six years ago, when everyone in America was saying, “Quick, turn on your TV set! O.J. Simpson is on the run!”
It has been six years since Nicole Brown Simpson, O.J.’s ex-wife, and Ronald Goldman, her friend, were brutally murdered outside her home. Six years since O.J. became a suspect. Six years since he fled the cops in that infamous white Bronco chase. Most of us didn’t realize, as we watched him slowly cruise down that L.A. freeway, that we were all going along with him, to a place we never dreamed of.
Because, if you ask me, the O.J. case was the most transforming American event of the ’90s. How did it change this country?
Let us count the ways.
First, racially, O.J. was a nuclear bomb. Even today, people still freeze when they remember the verdict announcement. When the words “not guilty” were uttered — and pictures of people celebrating were contrasted with people shaking their heads — from that moment forward, it seemed like blacks moved to one side of the room and whites to the other.
You may say this was the case before O.J., and perhaps you’re right. But that moment polarized our separation. We have been struggling ever since to find middle ground.
Pressure on the police
Second, cops. Nobody trusts them the same way. People forget that ultimately it was the police who were put on trial in the Simpson case, and they were found guilty — of shoddy work, of inconsistent methodology, and, in the case of Mark Fuhrman, of blatant racism.
Since O.J., there has been heightened attention to police failures and screwups. Racial profiling. Planted evidence. The 41 shots that killed Amadou Diallo. The torture of Abner Louima. All bring a familiar Simpson refrain. You can’t trust the cops.
Third element: media. The media have never been the same since the O.J. case. Film crews now regularly race to the scenes of any disaster and camp out — as they did outside Simpson’s house. Overreaction is the norm. Every little morsel is a lead story. Whether it’s Elian Gonzalez or John F. Kennedy Jr.’s plane crash, the media hunger for the next O.J.-like incident, one that lasts and lasts.
All those “TV legal analysts”? They owe their existence to O.J. So does the Court TV cable channel. Lawyers such as Johnnie Cochran, Marcia Clark and Alan Dershowitz all became famous TV personalities after the case — and many lawyers now hope for the same with their cases.
Nightly cable talk shows — hello, Geraldo Rivera — owe a debt to O.J. “When I had my show,” Charles Grodin, the actor turned talk host, told me last week,
“they told me, ‘Talk about O.J., or we’ll take you off the air.’ “
In recent weeks, the Ray Lewis murder trial was televised daily and debated nightly. Why? Who even knew who Ray Lewis was?
Didn’t matter. An NFL football player, on trial for murder? Put it on, fellas!
They were just following the O.J. blueprint.
Pressure on the courts
And, while we’re on the subject of law, who feels the same about the legal system since O.J.? Day after day, we were shown the warts of the courtroom — bickering, grandstanding, judges losing control. “The American opinion of the law was diminished considerably by that case,” Dershowitz admits.
And most people now believe — if they didn’t before — that if you have enough money, you can beat almost any rap. Why do you think they called it the Dream Team of lawyers? Because every defendant’s dream is to get off.
Legally, racially, televisionally — six years later, the Simpson case is still lava, still molding the landscape. Not surprisingly, Simpson himself recently called into a cable TV show to dispute his former sister-in-law. She called him a murderer. He said she wanted to have sex with him.
Naturally, it was front-page news.
No wonder there was no big anniversary last week.
The truth is, O.J. has never gone away.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can hear Mitch’s radio shows — “Albom in the Afternoon,” 3-6 p.m. weekdays, and
“Monday Sports Albom,” 7-9 p.m. Mondays — on WJR-AM (760).