Greg Peck: Revisiting O.J. and the “Trial of the Century”
I couldn’t get my wife interested in “Making of a Murderer,” the so-called documentary miniseries about Wisconsin's Steven Avery on Netflix.
But after Tuesday’s second episode of “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” I think I have Cheryl intrigued enough to watch the entire 10-part FX series.
All of us who lived through it can remember the famous slow-speed freeway chase nearly 22 years ago of Simpson in a white Ford Bronco. Many Americans were so riveted to TV coverage of the hundreds of hours of Simpson’s trial that they might not care about it now. Maybe I was too busy with work and family obligations to invest much time watching back then. Maybe as a football fan, I didn’t want to watch the trial of a man I considered one of the best players ever.
Or maybe time has fogged my memories. I didn’t recall who was driving the Bronco. If I ever knew it, I didn’t realize that the Kardashians, the overexposed family these days, were best friends with Simpson and his murdered ex-wife back then.
Regardless, this is a star-studded series. It took me a while to adjust to Cuba Gooding Jr., an actor whose work I admire, as Simpson. But John Travolta is creepily good as egotistical defense attorney Robert Shapiro. David Schwimmer of “Friends” fame is good as Robert Kardashian, and so is Sarah Paulson as lead prosecutor Marcia Clark. Nathan Hale and Cheryl Ladd are also in the cast.
But there’s another reason why I find this story compelling. It revisits not just what happened two decades ago but shines a spotlight on two current issues—police misconduct and the problems of football concussions.
I read a column Tuesday by Jim Newton of the Los Angeles Times. As he points out, the FX miniseries puts the Simpson murder trial in context of the earlier beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police. When a video of that beating was released, it triggered massive riots, arson and vandalism over ongoing police misconduct and racism. Given that backdrop, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that Simpson—obviously guilty of two homicides—escaped convictions amid suggestions that police were so corrupt that they were capable of framing a famous black suspect.
Here we are, 20 years later, and names such as Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Freddie Gray are among those that have become well known amid allegations of excessive police force against blacks.
The Feb. 8 issue of People magazine also contains a package on the FX series. In a sidebar, forensic pathologist Bennet Omalu, whose work inspired the new film “Concussion,” says he would bet his medical license that Simpson suffers from chronic traumatic encephalopathy. That’s the debilitating brain disease brought on by repeated blows to the head. CTE has been linked to aggression, impaired judgment and impulse-control problems—all symptoms that Simpson has exhibited after starring as a running back at USC and for 11 NFL seasons.
This suggestion might be one more reason for football fans to reconsider support of their favorite sport.