- Rich Eisen discusses the pop culture revival of the O.J. Simpson trial
A little more than 20 years after O.J. Simpson was found not guilty of murdering Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman, the trial is in the midst of a major pop culture revival thanks to FX’s 10-episode series, The People v. O.J. Simpson, and ESPN’s five-part 30 for 30 series, O.J.: Made in America. The 30 for 30, which premiered on June 11, offers an expansive look at Simpson’s life before, during and after the trial. NFL analyst Rich Eisen, host of the sports talk show The Rich Eisen Show, had two recent guests offer insight into the O.J. phenomenon that is recapturing the public’s attention. Eisen spoke with The MMQB about the reasons why—and a few NFL offseason issues, too.
KAHLER: Why do you think O.J. Simpson’s story has made a comeback into pop culture? Why now? Why so mainstream?
EISEN: I was just talking about it with my wife as to why there had been such a renewed sense of this. Maybe because it is now 20 years old and we are still struggling with the same questions about race and justice in this country as we were back then. The celebrity culture has absolutely exploded and the reality show culture has exploded—it is everywhere now, and the roots of it can be drawn to O.J. Simpson. The round-the-clock-coverage, the 24/7 news coverage, you can trace it back to that. The O.J. Simpson trial was the launching off point for a lot of our pop culture and news culture habits and touchstones. The way that we consume things these days was truly born out of that trial and the tribulations of it. I think feelings are still very raw. I’m of the mindset that O.J. is a double murderer and sociopath, and learning more about it and hearing stories I have never heard before in a very compelling documentary, I think it is riveting. Part of the ESPN documentary that I truly find fascinating and compelling was just setting the stage of race relations in regards to the LAPD and how that reached a boiling point months before O.J. was arrested. The verdict makes a lot more sense now.
KAHLER: You had Gil Garcetti, former Los Angeles district attorney (who served during Simpson’s trial) on your show. What did you ask him?
EISEN: We talked about why he sat down for the documentary; he hadn’t spoken about it in 22 years. His son, Eric Garcetti, the current mayor of L.A., convinced him to do it. I asked him if there was one thing he would change based on the way the trial was conducted. I asked him the question, Is this an open case in Los Angeles? And his reaction was pretty priceless. Because, I mean, O.J. was acquitted, which means technically this is an open case, right? His reaction was unequivocal. I asked Garcetti when he realized when he was in trouble, that the evidence put out there wasn’t a slam-dunk. He told a story that is not in the documentary, he said that former president Jimmy Carter was in Los Angeles and he met with him. And the president basically laid it out that the jury was going to come back not guilty because it was going to be payback for the number of innocent African Americans that were jailed by the criminal justice system in Southern California and the state of California. And here is a guy that if they do set him free, he is not a danger to the rest of the public. He’s only a danger to one woman and one man who was unfortunately in the wrong place at the wrong time. It really is just stuff that I am glad to be talking about today and have the time and space like my show, a three hour radio and TV show, to talk in depth about it.
KAHLER: You also had Dr. Harry Edwards, professor emeritus at UC Berkeley, on your show. Edwards, the architect of the 1967’s Olympic Project for Human Rights, asked Simpson to join the civil rights movement with other notable black athletes such as Jim Brown, and Muhammad Ali. What did Dr. Edwards say about Simpson’s refusal to join the civil rights movement?
EISEN: Dr. Edwards was also compelling. Because that is what is fascinating part of this too, that O.J. came to prominence during the late ’60s when the civil rights movement in this country was aflame, literally and figuratively, and the leaders of that movement specifically went to O.J. for help to be vocal about it, and he declined, he passed on the opportunity. And Harry Edwards said on Wednesday’s show that he felt if O.J. had agreed to the opportunity to be part of the civil rights movement like Jim Brown, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, then O.J. wouldn’t have been in the predicament he is currently in. That was an incredible response. So I said, Why did you think that? I also asked Harry Edwards what would have happened if O.J. had taken part—and what about the idea that O.J. did take part by being somebody that was viewed by the white population of this country as colorless? Might that be a contribution in itself? And his response was quite unequivocal as well.
KAHLER: Where were you when the verdict was announced? Or the Bronco chase?
EISEN: I don’t remember where I was when the verdict came out, but I do remember where I was for the low-speed chase. It was the day I graduated from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern and my family—and the families of two of my fellow graduates—all went to lunch in Chicago. Game 5 of the NBA Finals was also going on, and I was a Knicks fan, so I was initially disturbed that the Knicks game was put in a smaller screen at the bottom of the television. Like everybody else I was just stunned that O.J. Simpson was on the run from the police, clearly guilty and possibly suicidal. To find out that the guy that I grew up knowing as a football star and also a movie and television celebrity, that it was all a charade, was really shocking to me. I asked Garcetti, and I’m not fully well versed on all the transcripts of the trial, but I do recall that this was never brought up at trial. He had a disguise and money in the back and a passport, and the whole country watching, why can’t we revisit that in front of a jury? I just still can’t believe it. Garcetti also had some good stuff to say about O.J.’s current state of incarceration [for armed robbery and kidnapping in Las Vegas]. He said he thinks the 33-year sentence O.J. is currently serving is an over-the-top sentence for the kind of crime he committed.
KAHLER: What’s do you know now about O.J.’s murder trial that you didn’t before?
EISEN: Just the whole picture and more understanding as to why the jury came back with the verdict it did. Not because O.J. was innocent either, but I understand why people in Los Angeles, African Americans on that jury, why Jimmy Carter would say that this is payback. To put all these pieces together, for someone like me, I’ve lived through the O.J. trial, but not in it. I was an intern at the CBS Evening News the summer of the preliminary trial. I sat on the floor of the Dan Rather and Connie Chung co-anchored CBS Evening News while that was all going down. So I was part of the news coverage involved in it, and I was riveted to all the news reports and Dominick Dunne’s news reports in Vanity Fair just like everyone else. That was my way of living through it, but I was not living in it, certainly not in Los Angeles. All those pieces put together, how O.J. came to prominence and how he declined to be part of the civil rights movement that tried to advance people in this city, and understanding what was going on in the city based on that and O.J. living in his Brentwood mansion while L.A. was truly exploding. For him to then turn around and use the plight of African Americans in the city of Los Angeles and the police department’s handling of it, to use that as a way for him to get off of double murder, just adds to my sense of disgust for this man and what a piece of garbage, sociopath O.J. Simpson truly is. We all idolize sports figures and we see them fall from grace. You just truly never know anybody anymore. And O.J. was the most stark example of all of that.
KAHLER: How do you think the trial would have played out if there had been social media? Would anything have changed?
EISEN: There would have been a lot more real-time. People away from a TV set the day of the chase, would have had it in the palm of their hands. More people would have known about the trial as it was happening. All you need to know is the O.J. trial was the beginning of reality television as we currently know it. All the mock court show, The People’s Court, Judge Judy, for anybody who is wondering if this really was the beginning of reality television, all you need to know is that Kim, and Khloe and Kris aren’t the first Kardashians on television, Rob was the first. And who knows, maybe the person who saw Nicole’s dog barking outside of Bundy Drive might have had a camera phone? Somebody might have been able to grab a phone and shoot it.
KAHLER: Let’s get a few football questions in now. Von Miller posted on Instagram that there is “no chance” he will play the 2016 season under the franchise tag. Do you think the two sides will reach some agreement?
EISEN: I’ve been there, done that, seen it before. At some point there will be a player rich enough and angry enough to not sign a franchise tag and go into a season saying, I’m willing to stay home and watch my team win without me and give up $15 million in the process. I don’t know if Von Miller is going to be the one. Last year at this time, Dez Bryant was showing up every now and then like Von Miller is with Denver. Von was at the White House, Von accepted the ring, he’s been at some Broncos events. But last year, Dez Bryant, I do believe he showed up to an OTA or mini camp and was on the sideline while he was not signing his franchise tag. And then July 15 rolls around, it’s a midnight deadline, a 12:01 deadline, I’ve seen it with the lockout, I’ve seen it with all of this stuff, people are angry and it’s business. I expect him to sign on July 15 with a contract he will be happy with.
KAHLER: Do you think the Raiders will move to Vegas?
EISEN: I always used to think that a very warm place not named Vegas would have to freeze over for this to happen, but it seems that more stars than ever are aligning if owners like Robert Kraft and Jerry Jones are publicly making statements that Vegas has viability. The Rams might want to keep their new place for themselves, and the Chargers wouldn’t want to send a team there, or the city of Los Angeles might not be interested in having the Raiders back. If all those stars align, and Vegas builds it, maybe the Raiders will go. Maybe we will see the silver and black jack after all.
KAHLER: Will a team sign Greg Hardy?
EISEN: I hope not, let’s find somebody else to rush the passer. There’s enough guys in the world to rush the passer.
KAHLER: Assuming Brady’s suspension holds, what will the Patriots record after the first four games?
EISEN: Patriots are 3-1 with Garoppolo, and maybe 4-0 with him and 4-0 with Brady. Even with Brady, they have a very difficult task at hand at Arizona in that first game; certainly Garoppolo does. But the next three they should win with either quarterback, and I expect the New England Patriots to have another stellar year and maybe make it to Houston, which would only be fitting because that was the first Super Bowl we covered at NFL Network, Patriots vs. Panthers, and maybe we get to see that again, who knows?
KAHLER: LeBron and the Cavs forced a Game 7. How relieved will Browns players be if the Cavaliers win Cleveland’s first title in 68 years? That takes all the pressure off, right?
EISEN: It’s still a Browns town. They love LeBron, they love the Cavs, but let’s be honest, the Buckeye State is a football state through and through and they are still waiting on the Browns. LeBron winning doesn’t take any pressure off of them. It will be great for a city that is constantly looking for the trap door to open up on them. It will give them a great sense of pride, but the Browns are always going to be on the clock in that town, and not in a draft sense. Should the Cavs have a parade, it will pale to what it would be if the Browns won the Super Bowl. I can’t even imagine it.
The Rich Eisen Show airs daily 12-3 p.m. on DirecTV and Fox Sports Radio. Eisen is also the host of the NFL 360, a new show that premiered this week on NFL Network; it’s a 30-minute show every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. that features stories by NFL Network reporters.
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