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O.J. Simpson’s legacy rang loudest where his death created silence

In Sports
April 12, 2024

O.J. Simpson died Wednesday. The day it happened was always bound to be complicated.

Usually, when a Pro Football Hall of Famer dies, it triggers an outpouring of statements and remembrances from his teams, his teammates, famous fans and many more. But Simpson obviously wasn’t just any Hall of Famer.

After a successful NFL career and amid a successful acting career, Simpson stood trial and was found not guilty for the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman, despite what the public believed to be strong evidence of his guilt. Simpson avoided prison at the time, but spent the rest of his life in a unique sort of public purgatory, and eventually did go to prison for a different crime.

So what is there to say if a person dies after that?

If you’re the Buffalo Bills or San Francisco 49ers, the two teams Simpson played for during his NFL career, you say … nothing. As of Thursday evening, neither team has released a single statement or posted anything on their website acknowledging Simpson.

The same is true for the NFL and Simpson’s alma mater at USC, which still holds his Heisman Trophy, which has its own bizarre history.

1975: O.J. Simpson #32 of the Buffalo Bills looks on during an NFL game circa 1975. (Photo by Robert Riger/Getty Images)

O.J. Simpson leaves behind a legacy more complicated and compromised than any NFL star. (Photo by Robert Riger/Getty Images)

The most official organizations to acknowledge Simpson were The Heisman Trophy’s organizers and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Heisman Trust released a short statement on X, saying they mourned Simpson’s passing and extend sympathy to his family. They also published a short article on their website, going through his football achievements and nothing else.

The replies to that tweet are … not what you would call mournful.

The Hall of Fame, which frequently serves a role of confirming the deaths of its members, went a similar route with a much longer statement on Simpson’s death, again focusing only on his football achievements. The only acknowledgement of anything beyond football might be in the lone quote, in which the president simply says Simpson’s accomplishments won’t be removed from the Hall:

“O.J. Simpson was the first player to reach a rushing mark many thought could not be attained in a 14-game season when he topped 2,000 yards,” said Jim Porter, president of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “His on-field contributions will be preserved in the Hall’s archives in Canton, Ohio.”

You can compare that with other recent Hall of Fame obituaries which go into much further detail about the subject’s life, with several quotes remembering their greatness.

The College Football Hall of Fame, in which Simpson is also enshrined, did not release a statement.

There wasn’t total silence in the NFL over Simpson, though. A few current and former players tweeted with varying levels of reverence:

Reactions from Simpson’s old teammates appeared to be in short supply, though. The Associated Press had only a couple players among its collection of reactions:

“We really didn’t get along in the beginning. But eventually we became roommates and everything. So we had an outstanding relationship. We did a lot of things together. We went through a lot when he had his good years in Buffalo.” — Booker Edgerson, Simpson’s teammate in Buffalo, by phone to The Associated Press.

“I’m sad because, when people die you go `Oh, God, that’s terrible.’ But what happened to him, and maybe he brought it upon himself, but he was an icon in the nation. And he meant a lot (to) people doing those commercials. He did a lot for the Black race even though he didn’t know it. He wasn’t Muhammad Ali or anything, but he was doing things for athletes and not just Black athletes, but he kicked us into a really big thing. That’s what I think of him. He was a groundbreaker.” — Joe DeLamielleure, Hall of Fame offensive lineman, Simpson’s teammate in Buffalo, by phone to The Associated Press.

Throughout all this, you see the separation of Simpson the player from Simpson the accused murderer. Between the two halves of the same man is a line few cross, as most football people don’t want to unpack the considerable legacy his trial had on America or his history of domestic abuse against Brown, while the people focusing on that trial understandably aren’t too interested in how he ran for 2,000 yards in a season.

The latter side will always be the more impactful, especially for those with personal ties to a woman who would be 65 and a man who would be 56 today:

“The only thing I have to say is it’s just further reminder of Ron being gone all these years,” Fred Goldman, father of Ron Goldman said in a phone interview. “It’s no great loss to the world. It’s a further reminder of Ron’s being gone.”

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