Spending the Night with OJ Simpson

17 June 1994 OJ Simpson is being chased by police

on Los Angeles Freeway

Professor Goldblatt

“Turn on the television!” With this command from my six foot six inch tall friend Stedman Graham I immediately found a nearby television and switched it on. Unfortunately in my office building in Washington DC the thick walls blocked out any steady video signal. As I tried to further tune the set Stedman’s mobile phone rang loudly and persistently. Stedman reached for his mobile phone and it was his fiance’ ringing him from Chicago, Illinois.

Stedman and I had been brought together through a book contract where with another academic we were writing the first ever complete guide to sports event management and marketing. Stedman had flown to Washington, DC to review the final page proofs and help us make decisions regarding the final components of the book.

We decided the best way to approach this arduous task was with a late night session in my office at the George Washington University where we could concentrate without any further disturbance. And then the phone rang and rang.

I watched Stedman’s face as it became very serious and his expression turned from surprise to shock and horror. His fiance’, Oprah Winfrey then informed him that OJ Simpson had suddenly tried to escape from the police in his White Bronco and that several squad cars were now chasing him down the Los Angeles freeway. She continued to use her accomplished news presenter voice to describe every detail of the chase and Stedman, my colleague and I were totally absorbed, even though we still could not actually see much detail upon the television screen that was filled with static and wavy lines.

We were suddenly conflicted because we knew we had to finish our book project or end up in default of our contract with the publisher and yet at the same time it seemed that the entire world was tuning in to see what would happen to OJ next. Finally, after about thirty minutes of Oprah’s audio narration and our sketchy television pictures we were somewhat satisfied that we could and must return to finishing our book project.

In the months to come as OJ was brought to trial I realised that the ordeal we three had experienced in the office many months earlier was just the tip of the very deep and wide racial iceberg. It was in fact the beginning of a paradigm shift in race relations in the United States and also throughout the world.

When OJ was finally brought to trial every minute of the testimony by the many often strange characters who would appear in the courtroom were watched throughout the world by millions of interested voyeurs. I was not one of them.

However, when the final not guilty verdict was announced I heard a gigantic loud roar from a classroom just opposite my office. As it turned out the courtroom scene was bring broadcast on national television and being viewed by my 35 students in the nearby classroom. The students in my classroom were equally divided between black and white females.

I rose from my chair and walked into the back of the classroom and witnessed the black students cheering and weeping with joy whilst the white students sat there as if in great shock. I suppose this moment for many would be like other historic events that brought the world together for a moment and later everyone vividly remembered where they were at that moment.

Although I would not classify the OJ Simpson verdict in the same category as the assassination of President John F Kennedy and Dr Martin Luther King or the first time Astronaut Neil Armstrong walked on the lunar surface, however, it was indeed a dramatic event that profoundly changed not only the United States but the world’s perception of Americans as well.

In the years after this event I often wondered how my many black friends throughout the world considered this moment in relationship to a later dramatic episode known as the George Floyd murder that led to the rapid expansion of the Black Lives Matter movement?

Following the recent death of OJ SImpson at 76 years of age I too wonder if in the intervening 30 years much has changed regarding race relations in the land of my birth? Since that tragic episode that was sparked by the murder of two young people folowed by a protracted salacious televised trial that further divided the United States along a massive racial fault line, a black US President was elected and re – elected and when he left office highly was respected by citizens throughout the world.

Three decades later, Stedman is still engaged to Oprah, he went on to create a very well respected speaking consultancy business as well as to write many more books, and this week when I learned of the death of OJ I immediately recalled that moment when we three gathered to watch a world famous black athlete being chased by police.

I now wonder if the chase is still continuing to this day as many citizens, including myself, are increasingly worried about the many deep divisions occurring within society and if we can ever imagine a time when we may atone for our past sins, ask for forgiveness, and finally at long last begin to heal? That would really be something worth turning on the television to see.

Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland. His views are his own. To learn more about his views visit www.joegoldblatt.scot

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