Sole issue in Simpson case: Did he kill or not?

June 24, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

There is only one issue that interests me in the O.J. Simpson case: Is he or is he not a brutal, nightmarish murderer?

Everything else, as far as I'm concerned, is a lot of silly babble.

Some examples:

We keep hearing that this is the "fall of an American hero."


This is what I know about O.J. Simpson as a public person.

He was very good at running, especially clutching a football while being chased by 11 other football players.

He was paid handsomely for running with a football because at both the college and professional levels the ability to run with a football is a form of entertainment that sells tickets and increases TV viewership.

But running well with a football for money, while an act of exceptional athletic ability, is not an act of heroism.

We recently observed the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landing in Europe. Many of the men who ran, crawled or died on those beaches were heroes. But most of the incredible boobs who stood along that Los Angeles freeway and cheered Simpson's mock getaway could not name one true hero.

Simpson also performed in movies, TV commercials and as a sports commentator. I can't think of anything heroic about any of these endeavors.

I've never been in a movie, but I've made several TV commercials. All you have to do is memorize your lines and do what the director says. If you do it correctly, you reduce the cost of production. That might make you a hero to the dollar-conscious producer, but no one else.

So can we agree to drop the word "hero" in connection with FTC Simpson? A celebrity, yes. A household name, a familiar face, a media creature, a former exceptional athlete, sure. But I've known true heroes -- military and civilian -- and few of them had big-time talent agents.

Then there is the question of "media overkill," which was being debated almost immediately by the very same networks that put camera crews outside of Simpson's home and sent helicopters up to track his fake suicide scare.

There was no media overkill.

Simpson is the most famous American to be accused of murder since Aaron Burr, the vice president of the United States, killed Alexander Hamilton, his political rival, in a pistol duel in 1804.

Burr beat the rap. But in those days, duels of honor were still widely condoned. Had Burr put on a ski mask and gloves and hacked Hamilton to death with a long knife, he might have been strung up.

Other killers became famous after the crime. A few were already locally known when accused. But never in our history has any accused fiend been as recognizable as Simpson before the crime.

So there has been no media overkill. Simpson is a public figure. When you live by the TV image, you run the risk of dying by the TV image.

If anything, self-conscious papers such as the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times and other respectable publications almost tippy-toed around the story in its opening days.

TV and radio talk shows? Sure, they wallowed in the story the moment Simpson became the prime suspect. But that's because the TV and radio audience salivates over the latest gore and grime.

Don't blame the media. Blame your own insatiable appetite for the bizarre behavior of others. Nobody puts a gun to the heads of the millions of Americans who sit slack-jawed while catching their daily dose of weirdos on all the daily tell-all freako shows.

Americans fret about what they get over the airwaves while, at the same time, telling the sponsors: "Gimme more, baby, titillate me."

Finally, we have the argument that Simpson cannot get a fair trial because of all the media coverage; that out of the millions of people in L.A. County, there cannot be found a dozen individuals who will judge the evidence fairly.


If anything, Simpson will benefit from all the pretrial publicity. If he was an obscure accountant or shoe repairman accused of so grotesque a crime, his lawyers would already be trying to cut a plea-bargain deal.

It is only because he is O.J. -- as everyone calls him -- that he has even a prayer of persuading a jury that a one-armed stranger did it, or he went flippo because he loved her too well, or that he suffers from blackouts and doesn't remember what the heck happened.

It is the prosecutor who is at a disadvantage. Already, many renowned defense lawyers are being quoted about how Simpson's enormous popularity could sway sympathetic members of a jury.

And, remember, it takes only one stubbornly sympathetic juror to hang a trial.

Before this is over, we are going to hear a lot more nonsense. Black radio stations are already carrying calls about how it is a frame-up by the Mafia and Ku Klux Klan. We will hear that his ex-wife was a shrew. And surely how Simpson had a deprived childhood.

But what I know right now is that two young people were slaughtered like cattle in a stockyard. They are dead forever. And if Simpson is the killer, he must pay for what he did.

Unhappy childhood, unrequited love, a moment of passion -- bull. Murder is murder, and it doesn't matter how well you run with a football.

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