Talking About OJ Simpson and Football

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The OJ Simpson murder trial gained renewed attention in 2016 with ESPN’s gripping documentary, OJ: Made in America, and the FX docudrama The People vs. OJ Simpson.

The FX series embodied the absurdity of the media circus surrounding the case, in particular the trial itself, which functioned as a precursor to the reality TV craze of the 2000s. The ESPN documentary provided historical context and exposed the heinous realities behind the murders of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman, both of which deserved more discussion 20 years ago.

At the the heart of all it — the media frenzy in the ’90s, the new-found wave of curiosity — stems from OJ being a great football player. That’s an indisputable fact.

Credit Simpson’s crossover appeal after football if you want, but opportunities in entertainment came because of OJ’s football stardom, which began its ascent in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum while he was at USC.

In that same venue, OJ Simpson’s No. 32 still hangs alongside other Heisman Trophy winners and retired numbers. It was there, in the Coliseum, Simpson rushed for one of the most famous touchdowns in USC football history.

Is acknowledging the football accomplishments the same as celebrating the person or institution?

This is a topic with which I have struggled, particularly recently. It’s more difficult in the case of institutions than individuals.

Can one acknowledge the greatness of the 1999 Penn State defense, which featured one of the best duos in college football history in LaVar Arrington and Courtney Brown? The ’99 Nittany Lion defense was the last coordinated by Jerry Sandusky.

That season concluded with a rout of Texas A&M in the Alamo Bowl — the same Alamo Bowl Sandusky was found guilty of bringing one of his victims to.

Football — more specifically, winning football — blinded Baylor to the litany of sexual violence charges now coming to light.

So bearing that in mind, is it acceptable to discuss Baylor in compartmentalized terms; meaning, just mention Baylor football this season, as it pertains to matters of football?

The Bears will still play in the coming season, after all. Despite the firing of Art Briles, BU returns many good players — even a potential Heisman Trophy contender in quarterback Seth Russell. If Baylor succeeds on the field, how should that be addressed?

Should Russell have the kind of season that warrants consideration for college football’s most prestigious honors, the platform can, and perhaps should, be used to raise awareness about the elements that fostered Baylor’s atmosphere of dangerous ignorance.

On the flip side, is acknowledging Baylor football in the wake of the Pepper Hamilton report’s limited findings akin to celebrating Baylor football and further diminishing BU’s victims?

These are not questions to which I purport having clear answers.