Home » To many Black Americans, the O.J. Simpson verdict was bigger than O.J. Simpson

To many Black Americans, the O.J. Simpson verdict was bigger than O.J. Simpson

by NBC News

With the trial’s every detail broadcast in wall-to-wall coverage on cable news — a pure anomaly at the time — Simpson’s downfall symbolized something deeper to many Black people, particularly with the 1992 L.A. riots still fresh in their minds. 

“The African American community has accepted him not as an athlete or a hero, but as someone in the criminal justice system who, like them, would have been railroaded, they would say, if he had not had a Johnnie Cochran there to rescue him,” said Charles Ogletree Jr., a Harvard Law School professor who told PBS’s “Frontline” in 2005 that as Simpson became more successful, he seemed to become increasingly disjointed from Blackness. (Cochran was a key member of Simpson’s legal defense team.)

“O.J. Simpson was raceless,” said Ogletree who founded Harvard’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice and died last year. “He was not a person who spent time in African American communities. He was not a person who was deeply committed to African American values.” 

Simpson, who died Wednesday at 76 from cancer, came from humble beginnings, raised in housing projects in San Francisco. He played football for the City College of San Francisco before transferring to the University of Southern California, where he was part of the 1967 national championship team. The next year he won the Heisman Trophy and was the No. 1 overall pick for the Buffalo Bills in 1969. He played in the NFL for 11 seasons and, over those years, his charm and good looks threw him further into the spotlight.

O.J. Simpson played for the Buffalo Bills in the mid-1970s and was considered the best running back of his era.Focus On Sport / Getty Images

His rise on the field came as American culture was shifting, following the intense peak of the civil rights era. 

“He wasn’t just a household name to sports fans, but he became a household name to all of America,” said Shemar Woods, a professor at Arizona State University,…

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