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Editorial: OJ Simpson's fraught legacy is one on its own

Chicago Tribune Editorial Board, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Op Eds

Since television became a dominant medium beginning in the 1950s, there have been just a handful of moments where virtually anyone alive in this country at the time can say they knew where they were and what they were doing when they happened.

Assassinations dominate that list, starting with that of John F. Kennedy in 1963, moving through Martin Luther King Jr.’s death in 1968 and then yet another Kennedy just a few months later. John Lennon’s murder in 1980 is in the same category. The moon landing belongs. Richard M. Nixon’s resignation speech in 1974 is on the list. In more recent times, there’s 9/11.

But, bizarrely, also in that category is the surreal, slow-motion police chase of a Ford Bronco transporting one Orenthal James Simpson. Ask anyone old enough to remember, and that’s an awful lot of us, and they’ll be able to tell you where they were and what they were doing when that tawdry episode took over our TV screens for much of an entire day in 1994.

Remarkably, many Chicagoans listened on their car and kitchen radios to days and days of gavel-to-gavel audio coverage of Simpson’s murder trial on the old WMAQ-AM 670 news station, a frequency now (and we’ll note the irony), given over to sports talk.

 

O.J. Simpson’s death of cancer at age 76 ends one of the most extraordinary American lives ever to be lived, touching on so many persistent themes inherent in our ongoing cultural angst — hero worship of star athletes, criminal justice, race relations, celebrity obsession, media manipulation, the quiet scourge of murderous domestic violence. We could even add several more.

But O.J. is gone now. The rest of us are left — at least for a minute or two — to chew on his knotty legacy.

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©2024 Chicago Tribune. Visit at chicagotribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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