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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Maddy Mussen

OJ Simpson: how he became one of the most controversial men in America

Despite thirty years having passed since the death of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, when it was revealed that OJ Simpson had passed away yesterday, it was all anyone could think about.

And OJ didn’t help himself — he was still joking about their deaths in interviews as recent as February 2024. Less than two months on, Simpson died after a short battle with prostate cancer. But how did one of the most beloved men in America, and one of the highest regarded running backs of all time, become such a divisive figure?

Here are his most controversial moments.

1. The murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman

(AFP via Getty Images)

After OJ Simpson’s ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman were found dead at her home in June 1994, all eyes were on OJ. Not only did the former NFL star not turn himself in, as planned, but he also instigated the first televised police chase when he fled from police in a white 1993 Ford Bronco SUV. 

During the trial, there were multiple pieces of evidence that made it seem as though OJ was indisputably guilty. This included the blood of both victims being found in Simpson's car, Brown's blood being found on Simpson's socks, and blood from both victims and Simpson being found at the scene. However, it was then found that one of the key police officers working the Simpson case had a history of racism, which, as put by NPR, “divided the nation” along racial lines.

OJ was acquitted after 11 months, with the jury returning a not guilty verdict. After his acquittal, no subsequent arrests or murders were made, and there was no justice for Brown and Goldman’s deaths.

2. Previous allegations of abuse

Nicole Brown Simpson (AP)

As well as the overwhelming physical evidence against OJ, he was also exposed for having a history of abuse against Nicole Brown Simpson. In the documentary O.J and Nicole: An American Tragedy, Nicole’s diaries showed that she had written about 60 occasions that Simpson allegedly physically abused and threatened her, during and after their tumultuous marriage.

In one entry, Nicole wrote how he first attacked her in 1978 and punched and kicked her in their hotel room for hours while she tried to escape.

Nicole even references his history in the last call she made while she was alive, while begging the police to come to her house and protect her. “He’s OJ Simpson,” she said in a call to 911. “I think you know his record.”

3. The glove that didn’t fit

OJ Simpson during his trial (REUTERS/Sam Mircovich/Files)

Despite the physical evidence, one of the main pro-OJ arguments in the trial was demonstrated via a glove that was found at the crime scene. At one point during the trial, OJ was asked to wear the glove to prove that it fit him, only for him to visibly struggle to fit his hands into the glove. 

The prosecution argued that OJ was acting, to which OJ’s defence attorney Johnnie Cochran replied “I don't think he could act the size of his hands." Cochran also used the phrase, “If it doesn't fit, you must acquit,” which he re-used during his closing arguments before OJ was acquitted.

4. OJ said he wasn’t Black

During his trial, OJ is said to have uttered the infamous phrase: “I’m not black, I’m OJ.” The phrase has been co-opted and rehashed numerous times, including by Jay Z in his song, The Story of OJ, in which the rapper says “I’m not black I’m OJ. Okay.” 

OJ addressed this use of the phrase after the song’s release, saying that Jay Z misquoted him. "Well, first of all, [Jay-Z] didn’t say it right," he said in an interview. "When Johnnie [Cochran] was talking to me about it, and all that was going on was 'Black, Black, Black,' I said, 'Man, f**k being Black. This is me. This is about OJ.,' you know?"

5. Bizarre behaviour in interviews

There are numerous accounts of OJ joking about the murders since his acquittal, but one of the most memorable is after his interview with a TV reporter, when he denies killing Brown and Goldman but then says he has a “surprise” for the reporter. She tells the camera, “I think this was his idea of a joke,” before playing a clip where she opens a door and OJ pretends to stab at her. 

6. The rumour that he is Khloe Kardashian’s father

Khloe Kardashian has lived with rumours OJ Simpson is her father (Disney Plus)

The only thing that haunted OJ more than the assertion that he was guilty, was the theory that he was in fact Khloe Kardashian’s father. Robert Kardashian and OJ were friends — a fact that won’t come as a surprise to any viewers of American Crime Story: The People vs O.J, who had to watch David Schwimmer call him “Juice” every two seconds. As such, Kris Jenner and OJ were also close. 

This, combined with opinions that Khloe and OJ look alike, has formed the main basis of the theory. Khloe has addressed it before, saying on a 2012 episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians, “Seriously, my dad is Robert Kardashian. My other dad is [Caitlyn] Jenner. I don’t need someone to tell me who my family is. I have had the blessing of having two phenomenal fathers. I don’t need a DNA test to prove who my father is.

7. He did eventually go to prison — for stealing his own memorabilia

OJ Simpson watches his former defense attorney Yale Galanter testify during an evidentiary hearing in Clark County District Court on May 17, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Getty Images)

OJ Simpson was eventually sent down, but for an entirely different crime to the one he’s known for. Simpson was arrested in connection with an armed robbery at a Las Vegas hotel room in 2008, where he and a group of men attempted to “steal back” his own memorabilia.

Simpson confessed to police that he was one of the men behind the robbery of Alfred Beardsley, a memorabilia collector and old friend, who was allegedly seeking to sell Simpsons’ Hall of Fame certificate and a picture of OJ with J. Edgar Hoover, among other pieces. 

Simpson was found guilty of the robbery on October 3, 2008 — exactly 13 years after he was acquitted of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. He was sentenced to 33 years, with the opportunity to serve nine with good behaviour. He was released in 2017.

8. The book he wrote called ‘If I Did It’

Former NFL football star OJ Simpson was freed on parole in 2017 (AP)

In another poor-taste showing from OJ, he released a book in 2007 entitled “OJ Simpson: If I Did It, Here’s How It Happened.” 

In the book, OJ describes the murders in the chapter “The Night In Question”. He writes about being at Brown-Simpson’s house with a friend called ‘Charlie’, when he confronts her and Goldman. Simpson’s book then says he blacks out for a few moments and when he comes to the pair are in “giant pools of blood.”

After much controversy, a Florida bankruptcy court awarded the rights to the book to the Goldman family, who made revisions and republished it under the title: “If I Did it: Confessions of the Killer.”

9. Get Juiced prank show

You’d really think that leaning into your whole legacy being ruined by the murders you committed would be seen as an unwise decision, but OJ just kept doing it. 

Next in his series of bad decisions came a prank show called “Get Juiced” in 2008. According to the LA TImes, one sketch allegedly saw Simpson visiting a used-car auction to sell a white Ford Bronco, joking that “It helped me get away,” in reference to his notorious 1994 televised police car chase.

10. Still made jokes referencing the murder in 2024

Former American football player O.J. Simpson arriving in England with British publicist Max Clifford

Simpson’s references to the murders continued right up until February 2024, where he made a joke about them on the It Is What It Is podcast. After being asked to respond to Shaquille O’Neal’s comments about confessing secrets to women, OJ said that he didn’t want to do any “confessing”. 

“When you say ‘open up to women,’ I don’t know what he’s talking about,” Simpsons said. “Is he talking about confessing? No man, don’t confess. I think he’s right. Don’t say nothing… leave me out of the confession.” Before finally adding: “Y’all gotta leave me out of this one.”

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