by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

At the moment of truth, he ran away, avoided the tackle, as if there were some end zone he could reach and be safe — safe from the handcuffs, the police, the cameras, the courts, the blood of the victims they say he killed, maybe even safe from the death penalty. The police were right behind him, 11 squad cars, like an opposing football team, and they chased patiently along the Southern California highway, even as spectators stopped their cars, some waving signs saying “GO JUICE.” This is what the man who dashed through airports had become. O.J. Simpson was a fugitive, a murder suspect on the loose.

He left a suicide note and was running for home.

Nobody knows nobody. That’s the lesson of this hero business. You buy into a smile, a style, a haircut, a commercial, a nickname, but you never really know the person. You don’t know him because you watched him play, or because you shook his hand, or because he calls to you at an airport and you talk about golf. One “friend” of Simpson’s figured this alone was proof of his innocence. That they flew together Sunday night and talked about golf. How could Simpson, just hours earlier, have done the unthinkable, killed his ex-wife and another man, stabbed them and left their bodies bloodied and crumpled by her condominium in LA, and be on this flight to Chicago talking about putts and tee shots? Murderers don’t do that, right?

Says who? Nobody knows nobody. Until Friday, you wouldn’t have said O.J. Simpson was the suicidal type either, not the type to be rolling down a highway with a gun pointed to his head, even as friends went to radio stations to tearfully beg him to surrender. It was a night the world went crazy, right before our eyes.

Simpson was finally arrested late Friday night in the driveway of his Brentwood home in the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson, 35, and Ronald Goldman, 25, by an LA police force that, if anything, went out of its way to try and avoid doing so. They found blood on O.J.’s truck and blood in his driveway and a bloodied glove in his house and cuts on his body — and they still took four days to decide to book him. When they did, they made an arrangement with his lawyer to have him surrender — a final nod to his celebrity status — and that special treatment could have led to his suicide.

It might not have led to justice, however. And that is supposedly the business a police force is in. Plenty of breaks

While the inclination is to feel sorry for Simpson — because we always gravitate to the more famous face, that is the American way — let’s consider the breaks O.J. was given here. His well-known lawyer, Robert Shapiro, was told by police at 8:30 a.m. that they were ready to arrest Simpson and charge him with double murder, special circumstances, which is a crime that could result in the death penalty.

Now. Under normal circumstances, in a double murder, police don’t call ahead to make an arrest; they bust down the door. But Simpson was high-profile, Shapiro was high-profile, and the LA police — who will catch hell over this, you can count on that — made an exception, something they have done before with this lawyer, and gave him time, hours, to get things together.

So here were Simpson, Shapiro, two doctors, two forensic specialists, and Simpson’s close friend, Al Cowlings, all at a large private home in the San Fernando Valley, with the clock ticking, but Shapiro calling the shots.

And somehow, with all those people there, just before the police were given the address, Cowlings and Simpson managed to be alone downstairs while the others were upstairs.

By the time the cops got there, the two men were gone.

“I had no reason to suspect” he would flee, Shapiro said Friday night, in the saddest and most bizarre press conference to ever hit the sports world.
“It never entered our minds that he might run.”

Nobody knows nobody. A farewell note

“I can’t go on,” Simpson wrote, in an apparent suicide note that a friend read at the press conference, a touching tribute to his buddies, a plea for the media to leave his children alone, and an insistence that he had a happy marriage with his ex, despite reports to the contrary. He even included a message to his first wife: “Thanks for the early years, we had fun.” But the most important issue, the one that they care about in the homes of two people who are dead but didn’t want to be, Simpson barely addressed.

Did he do it?

“I had nothing to do with Nicole’s death,” he wrote.

Obviously the police felt differently.

“Mr. Simpson is a wanted murder suspect, two counts of murder, a terrible crime,” said David Gascon, LAPD commander, in appealing for help in Simpson’s apprehension.

What about his alibi?

“Obviously, we didn’t believe it.”

Gascon spoke about evidence. Blood types. He said that fleeing an arrest could also be considered a suggestion of guilt. Meanwhile, in his note, Simpson cryptically suggested he would kill himself because “I can’t go on .
. . no matter what the outcome, people would look and point . . . I can’t take that . . . “

This, from a man who played professional football, who is looked at and pointed at every day of his life? The question is simple: If he didn’t do it, why run away? Why threaten suicide?

Is it the suggestion that he did something wrong or the guilt that he did which he didn’t want to live with?

These are terribly hard questions. No one knows the answer. The whole scene was bizarre, surreal, as if Hollywood had finally turned real life into a movie.

But the reaction across the nation was, in some ways, more bizarre. “We can’t believe it,” people said, “it’s not possible.”

Believe it. Nobody knows nobody.

And anything is possible. Friends rush to defense

Did you notice how many people rushed to Simpson’s defense when it was first suggested he committed this crime? “No way,” they said. “He’s the nicest guy we’ve ever met.” And these were friends and coworkers, not fans. Few seemed willing to admit that Simpson had already once been charged with beating his wife, in 1989 — allegedly yelling “I’ll kill you” — a charge to which he pleaded no contest.

Nor did anyone mention that Simpson’s “punishment” for that crime included counseling which he was able to take over the telephone.

“It seems he received special treatment,” the LA district attorney, Gil Garcetti, admitted.

Nor did anyone speak of how the police were called for further incidents of violence between the Simpson couple, prior to their divorce in 1992. And when a therapist admitted that the ex-Mrs. Simpson had told her of abuse by her husband, medical authorities criticized the therapist’s “breach of confidentiality.” Confidentiality? The woman was murdered!

Few things are as sad as the apathy we show athletes who beat, abuse, and sexually assault women. And heaven help your blindness if you haven’t noticed the pattern by now.

Consider: The one-time heavyweight champion of the world, Mike Tyson, is in prison, right now, for rape. The man he took the title from, Trevor Berbick, was convicted of rape less than a month later. Jim Brown, whom many consider the only running back in history better than O.J. Simpson, has a trail of abuse and violence toward women as long as one of his touchdown runs. A flight attendant last year charged the Boston Bruins hockey team with sexual assault, claiming one player fondled her while another took a picture.

The sad truth is, many big-time athletes — not all — believe women are there to serve them. And for boxers and football players, taking violence from the arena to the home, against women they really don’t respect, is not a great leap.

Put this in a world where domestic violence is already beyond control, and where, as Garcetti points out, “we have a domestic violence death in this city once every nine days,” and nothing seems out of the ordinary.

Yet here we are, somehow incredulous that a beloved O.J. could possibly commit this crime? Why? Because we knew him so well? We had no idea

Consider what the average person knows of O.J. Simpson. 1) He was once a great football player. 2) He did some cute Hertz commercials. 3) He does football analysis on NBC. 3) He appears in those kooky “Naked Gun” movies, usually in slapstick situations, falling down a chute, or being dragged by a car.

That’s not a lot to go on. The real O.J.? You have no idea. I have no idea. All these reporters writing now about his rough childhood near the shipyards of San Francisco, his flirting with gangs in high school, his salvation through football — you know what? None of those people know him either. They’re just repeating stories.

What goes on inside the human mind — the rage, the fantasy, the torment, the delusion — well, you don’t get that through interviews, or living next door to a guy, or sitting on a set with him a few days a week. Sometimes you don’t even know when you marry him.

But you can say this. Two murders are the story here — not a high drama chase. And our sympathies should first be with the murder victims. They didn’t get a good-bye note read on television. They didn’t get to rework their wills. They didn’t get to call their mothers, children and friends — as Simpson did in his “gift” hours from police.

Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman are simply gone, their families left with grief. If Simpson — and this is a huge if — did indeed commit the murders, there is no sympathy for him. Even suicide would have been an act of cowardice.

At the very least, this was the strangest night on earth, a man in a truck, who used to be a hero, talking about killing himself, as fans cheered his name just a block away. Then, finally, being walked off in the evening darkness, put in a police car, taken away.

A terrible odyssey. In his note, Simpson wrote, “Please remember the real O.J.” — but who on earth can say who that is? Friday night proves only one thing: Commercials, football games, smiles and interviews don’t bring anyone closer to the secrets inside the human mind. Nobody knows nobody. Maybe nobody ever will.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

Subscribe for bonus content and giveaways!