*Before Barack Obama, it was O.J. Simpson who, in a most unlikely fashion, provided irrefutable proof that things are changing for people of color in America. In 1995, years before Obama would be elected as the nation’s first Black President, Simpson achieved an anomaly in America’s justice system: he was a Black man acquitted of murdering white people.
Whether or not you believe he did it, Simpson getting the best justice his money and fame-fueled privilege could buy was/is as close to the kind of justice white folk in this country get all the time, just being white.
Amazingly, Simpson walked, and more than two decades later it’s still difficult to determine which man a segment of America hates more, Simpson or Obama.
In any case, nine years of a 33-year prison sentence is a remarkably short time to serve for murdering two, uh, I mean, a ridiculously long time to be locked up for not allowing some buddies to leave a hotel room over their possession of some stolen sports memorabilia.
And now that Simpson will be paroled sometime this October (“The Juice is loose!” goes the cry, interchangeable for better or worse), I’d like to offer the man some advice on staying out of jail.
Generally, the suggestions can be summed up with this pithy colloquialism popular among Black people: You need to go somewhere and sit down.
In Simpson’s case, “somewhere” is at home; on a desert island; in a foreign land; the east side of Mars—anywhere he can’t get into trouble. Then again, since places don’t commit havoc, and because a guy like Simpson has the potential to bring chaos to a monastery, his staying out of trouble has little to do with where he is and everything to do with his behavior when he is there.
Disappear is the word, O.J. Get lost.
Reconnect with family. Get a hobby. Stay out of the public eye. This doesn’t mean not going out to have a meal, play a game of golf or take in a movie. This means not doing interviews or anything else that will supply the press, the public and stand-up comics (more) fodder for coverage and further disdain.
Get yourself a good therapist. Surely there are things you need to sort out within yourself; therapy can help. During your parole hearing, you seemed angry and unrepentant.
That I can understand. More concerning is the fact that you didn’t seem to know (or care) that the hearing wasn’t the place to reveal those emotions, dude. Having a professional with whom to talk could help suppress any urge you might have to share with others, i.e. the press.
Speaking of the press, disregard the media (except this particular column, of course). I know. Ignoring the virtual cottage industry created on your back—the news coverage, the articles, mentions in rap songs, the books, TV shows, documentaries and movies—is akin to any one of us driving by a fast food restaurant, seeing our name and image on the sign and not being tempted to pull over.
Still, do your best to avoid and ignore the media, because you’re not going to like what you see or hear. Very little of it is going to be about what a great athlete you were. It’s going to be about something else.
Find yourself some friends. Real ones. This isn’t easy for any of us and it will be less so for you—admittedly, there is something about being accused of killing human beings that repels like too much cheap cologne. But you need to surround yourself with sincerity, people who don’t seek to exploit you, bring trouble or simply want to know you for who you are.
Which begs the question, sir: Just who the hell are you? The only thing much of the world knows about O.J. Simpson is your famed former occupation and the murder trial.
Somewhere deep down inside there has to be more–more that you can offer society beyond headlines that leave people shaking their heads. You’ve another gear, O.J. Is proclaiming this the perfect time for reinvention an understatement?
Simpson, your job—not your only job, but your main one–is to stay out of prison. A lot of people don’t believe you can do it. They think you’ll be back in jail for some assorted villainy in no time. Keep in mind that if you return to prison, you’ll mostly likely die there.
And what ever you do, Juice, please don’t take up Tweeting.
Steven Ivory, veteran journalist, essayist and author, writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Respond to him via [email protected]