This wasn't supposed to happen: I forgot about O.J.
I hadn't thought about him since he was convicted two years ago of a comical Las Vegas robbery and kidnapping caper, something straight out of a Guy Ritchie movie, and hauled off to prison, where he is today. He got nine years.
Before that, I hadn't thought of him in who knows how long since his acquittal 15 years ago on Sunday -- it's been that long -- on charges that he murdered his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her acquaintance Ronald Goldman.
I remember the entire hullabaloo. Who of at least an impressionable age in 1995 doesn't?
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People of the State of California v. Orenthal James Simpson, which had so many characters it looked as if it was staged by a casting company, turned into the most-watched televised trial in history. Ninety-one percent of the TV viewing audience reportedly watched the verdict rendered.
But the trial of the century, as my vocation proclaimed it, didn't wind up seared in memory for prosperity. A few other truly monumental, cataclysmic and watershed events since then washed it away.
The Bush Administration started a war in Iraq and engaged one in Afghanistan that as of this week cost 5,696 U.S. military servants their lives. The first son of a black man was elected President of the United States. Religious extremists commandeered four U.S. passenger jets and turned them into weapons of mass destruction that obliterated New York's two tallest skyscrapers, killed upwards of 3,000 people and sparked the Bush White House's war strategy. Hurricane Katrina struck. Three students on two campuses shot dead 46 of their classmates and teachers before killing themselves. The turn of the century presidential election was ultimately decided by a 5-4 Supreme Court decision.
So the O.J. case eventually, and thankfully, was relegated to what was always its proper place: another trial of the now 15,000-plus murders that take place in this country every year.
What the O.J. trial really was, in retrospect, was a sideshow. It was no less bizarre than the speed-limit car chase that preceded it, when O.J. rode around Los Angeles in the infamous white Ford Bronco with his longtime sidekick Al Cowlings at the wheel. A parade of police cars was in tow waiting for O.J. to turn himself in.
I remember it happening during Game 5 of the NBA Finals in New York with the Knicks hosting Houston and Pat Riley as Knicks' coach asking the first question at the post-game press conference. He wanted to know from those of us on press row -- who'd watched the chase on our monitors after NBC interrupted game coverage before going to a split-screen -- what happened to O.J.
O.J., of course, was a celebrity and he gave his trial Hollywood elements that made it the theater (maybe of the absurd) it became. He was as big of a sports star as we had seen; he was a Heisman Trophy winner and a record-setting NFL running back. He'd become an acting star, particularly as a rental car pitchman, while living in athletic retirement in Los Angeles. He was a black man last married to a white woman who looked like the quintessential Southern California blond, and she was dead and he was suspected of killing her. A down-on-his-luck script writer wouldn't have manufactured such a masterpiece of fiction.
Those were the reasons tens of millions of people tuned in every day to watch the trial that gave birth to "Court TV" and provided a springboard to other ventures by a handful of the case's biggest stars like prosecutor Marcia Clark, rogue cop Mark Fuhrman and oddball witness Kato Kaelin.
But those tribulations were where the trial's contributions, to use the word loosely, to society ended. The O.J. trial didn't turn out to be any more than that.
It didn't, for example, despite investigator Barry Scheck's compelling expert testimony on DNA evidence, spur the use of such science in courts elsewhere. If anything, it demonstrated that not every person who could play a role in sending someone away for life was competent or even cared, and that a lot of them, even in large major police departments like L.A.'s, were frighteningly sloppy and inept.
The televised courtroom craze the O.J. trial unquestionably ignited didn't turn out to be boon to jurisprudence, either, unless you consider the "Judge Judy Show," "Judge Joe Brown" and "The People's Court" to be real advancements in judicial arguments. I don't think any are being studied at Harvard or Yale.
And the O.J case wasn't as revealing as a lot of us, maybe even me, made it out to be so long ago. To be sure, it did remind of deep racial divisions in this country. Those who believed O.J. got away with murder and those who believed the system worked as it should, and seemingly always does, were easily defined then by skin color and still are today. A 2004 NBC poll showed that 77 percent of people thought O.J. was guilty but only 27 percent of black respondents believed he was while 87 percent of white respondents thought he was.
That the trust by black and white people of the judicial system was so different was not new. The O.J. trial was really just another in a long list of reminders about the racial divide in this country that continues today no matter who calls the Oval Office his work space. One need only look at the ugly imagery displayed at some Tea Party rallies to be reminded of as much.
Or they can look at the O.J.-ization of the coverage of Tiger Woods' adultery, which included a Vanity Fair magazine cover that harkened to the controversial Time magazine cover of O.J. when he was charged with murder. Images of each man, both of whom had not only transcended their blackness but seemed to have left it behind for entrée to white society, were darkened. Their gaze into the camera was left stereotypically menacing.
But the last time I recall seeing O.J.'s face was when he was led out of that Las Vegas court room two years ago in handcuffs. He's been out of sight ever since, and -- if you can believe it 15 years after his trial to end all trials -- out of mind even longer.