Revisiting History

"I've been very clear. I won. I didn't commit the crime." — O.J. Simpson

Last week ESPN aired its latest "30 For 30" documentary, "OJ: Made in America." Over five nights and 10 hours it told the comprehensive story of Simpson's career and post-career life, specifically the most famous trial in the world.

It is a fantastic 10 hours, and something that fans of sports and those who aren't should check out. It's about so much more than one athlete, it's about the history of race relations and justice in America. If that sounds broad and dry, I'm doing it a disservice, because it was far from that.

It's been quite a year of the O.J. Simpson trial. First came the fictional account of the trial, "The People vs. O.J. Simpson," and now this ESPN documentary. For someone who was young 22 years ago when it happened, it was fascinating to re-examine the whole series of events. Watching this documentary, I came away with a few thoughts.

1. I never really appreciated O.J. the athlete. When I was growing up, Simpson was a sideline reporter and the guy from the "Naked Gun" movies. Watching part one of the documentary, in particular, I gained a greater appreciation for him as a football player.

2. The trial was about a lot of things, but justice wasn't one of them. I remember watching the trial during the summer as a kid and thinking O.J. was getting a bum deal. Now, as an adult, seeing the facets behind the trial and the evidence, I realize he didn't get a bum deal. It feels pretty safe to assume that he did the crime and got away with it. Some of it had to do with sloppy work from the police and district attorneys. But some of it didn't.

3. The trial was about years of racial tension and discord in Los Angles. The most fascinating part of the documentary, to me, is how it chronicles years of history in Los Angles. One of the interviewees says it best when he says Los Angles was on trial, not O.J. Simpson. That helps to explain a lot about the verdict versus the evidence presented.

It reminds me of my favorite movie, "A Time to Kill." In his closing summation Jake Brigance (Matthew McConaghey) talks about his idea of being able to get a fair trial, and the reality he comes to realize. He is defending a black man on trial for killing two white men in Mississippi. He says that he started the trial aiming to prove a black man could get a fair trial in the south — that we're all equal under the law. But, like so many of those jurors in Los Angeles, he came to realize that's not how the world works.

"And until we can see each other as equals, justice is never going to be even-handed. It will remain nothing more than a reflection of our own prejudices."

It is a powerful summation and a powerful work of fiction. In real life, with the People vs. O.J. Simpson, the people sent a powerful message, too. It's an enduring legacy and enduring reminder more than 20 years later.


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