OJ Simpson's could have been our favorite kind of story, one of triumph over adversity. From a child who had rickets and wore leg braces until age five, he developed into a famous football hero who still holds the record for rushing the football more than 2,000 yards in a single season (14-game). His easy charisma and obvious dedication to the game practically dropped opportunities into his lap. From lucrative endorsement deals to TV and film roles, Simpson led a charmed life. What is most disturbing about his story is how such promise, accomplishment, and adoration could result in equally poor judgment, entitlement, and shame.
His public troubles began in 1989 with an uncontested domestic violence charge brought by his then-estranged wife, Nicole Brown Simpson. An unfortunate series of legal problems and odd behaviors ensued. Much like his role in The Naked Gun
, the real Simpson's life became a mix of incredible blunders and lucky breaks. His almost three-month trial joined the ranks of "most watched television." A PBS program reported, "On October 3, 1995, an estimated 150 million people stopped what they were doing to witness the televised verdict of the O.J. Simpson trial." During the time the trial was being held, the most popular shows were ER and Seinfeld, each boasting a regular viewership around 20 million. For a more recent perspective, according to a Neilson Company report, 22.76 million Americans tuned in to the royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. Neilson also reported that an estimated 111.3 million people watched the 2012 Super Bowl.
Many believed that the jury returned a "not guilty" verdict for fear of another race riot like 1992 LA riots that followed the Rodney King beating. In a 1995 Gallup Poll of 639 Americans, 38% of people surveyed reported that "the jury considered race in making their decision," and 34% reported that "race determined the verdict." A 1999 Gallup Poll revealed that despite the verdict, many thought that Simpson was guilty. When asked if they thought Simpson had actually committed the murders, they answered: 36% definitely; 38% probably; 15% probably not; only 6% answered definitely not, and another 6% did not respond.
Once the trouble started, Simpson seemed to emerge every few years with a new criminal act. Simpson's low-speed car chase was widely publicized and made his white Ford Bronco famous. In 1997, the families of the deceased were awarded $33.5 million in damages for the wrongful death of Goldman and the battery of Brown. By changing his residence to Florida, Simpson narrowly escaped having all of his assets seized by the California courts. Still, his finances were severely diminished and his reputation irreparably tarnished. He had unpaid taxes, a bitter attitude, and still managed to win the custody battle for the two children he fathered with Brown, against Brown's surviving parents.
In 2007, Simpson was arrested for multiple felony counts, including armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, criminal conspiracy, and kidnapping. He claimed that he was retrieving stolen memorabilia items from the Las Vegas hotel room he and three others forcibly entered. This time, the jury found him guilty, and Judge Glass passed a severe sentence of 33 years in prison, with the possibility of parole in 2017 (9 years). At age 61 at the time of the verdict, Simpson is not likely to take his last breath outside the walls of the Lovelock Correctional Center.
According to 2009 data from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, the life expectancy of a black male is 70.9 years. Also working against Simpson's hope of seeing the outside again is that the State of Nevada has a death rate 6% above the national average. Had he committed his crime in Florida or California, he may have benefited from the lower death rates 9% and 12% below the national average, respectively (CDC, 2009). If he survived to parole, he may fall victim to an odd irony that affects former prison inmates. The New England Journal of Medicine (2007), sites that there is a greater risk of death within the first two years after release from prison. Within 2 weeks after release, inmates were 12.7 times more likely to die than their Washington state counterparts. Overall, the death rate of former inmates was 3.5 times that of their counterparts. The death rate was lower among inmates in Simpson's age category than in younger inmates.
Most recently, there have been rumors that Simpson will confess to the murders of Brown and Goldman on a televised interview with Oprah. Some rumors say that Simpson has already confessed to one of Oprah's producers, stating that he killed Brown and Goldman in self-defense.
The question is really not whether Simpson will survive prison, but how he will use the rest of his life. His story can teach us that we are all responsible for our choices; one lie or bad decision, not interrupted with a healthy dose of personal responsibility, can lead anyone down a long and dark path. Simpson's tremendous luck is also a reminder that we are often gifted in spite of ourselves and not all the things that are out of our control are bad.
What can I do?
Make amends. No one of us is guaranteed a job, a relationship, a home, our health, or the very next moment. Take personal responsibility for something you did. I suggest it be something that is incongruent with the person you want to be. The results may surprise you.