June 21, 2016
Anytime there is a new ESPN “30 for 30” documentary, it is normally worth taking time to watch. But the latest entry, a five-part, almost-eight-hour-long series called “O.J.: Made In America” from director Ezra Edelman, might be the best documentary the network has done. If you haven’t watched “O.J.: Made In America,” don’t read any further, as this post contains spoilers.
Even 22 years after the murders of Nicole Brown-Simpson and Ron Goldman, this case still lives in infamy. The O.J. Simpson murder trial also brought up issues that we continue to struggle with as a society today, such as race and domestic violence.
Race and racism are where Edelman begins in parts one and two. He does a great job of showing the treatment of black people in Los Angeles as Simpson began his journey to fame on the gridiron and the Rodney King beating and trial spurred riots on the streets.
This look back at the rise and fall of Simpson provides some interesting tidbits in all five parts.
Simpson’s friend Joe Bell says the now infamous football player’s father was gay and tells how Simpson stole best friend Al Cowlings’ girlfriend, Marguerite Whitley. Simpson later married Whitley at age 19, and as the two stayed friends, Cowlings later drove the white bronco in the famous slow-speed chase.
Most of us at a certain age remember Simpson as the bumbling Nordberg from “The Naked Gun” film series, but in parts one and two of the documentary, you see the moves on the football field that made Simpson a Heisman Trophy winner and NFL Hall of Fame player.
One of the most interesting things in part one is that Simpson wanted nothing to do with the Civil Rights Movement. At one point, he told activist Harry Edwards, when approached about boycotting the 1968 Olympics, “I’m not black; I’m O.J.”
The documentary’s first episode touches on Simpson’s early struggles in Buffalo, as well as his first meeting with an 18-year-old Nicole, who was working at private L.A. nightclub The Daisy, and telling a friend that he would marry her.
The former NFL running back began dating Nicole while still married to Whitley.
Part two devotes some time to Simpson’s cheating on the golf course and his daughter drowning, but mainly, the focus is on his treatment of women. The documentary shows him as a womanizer and delves into how he mentally abused a pregnant Nicole by telling her his affairs were a result of her getting “fat.”
Domestic violence plays a major part in the second episode, as Simpson gets away with abuse because of his charm and celebrity. Even ESPN had a hand in the way the public viewed him.
In an ESPN show called “Sports Look,”host Roy Firestone makes excuses for Simpson’s 1988 attack on Nicole, who needed medical treatment as a result. Firestone was just one of the many people who made excuses for Simpson’s domestic violence. After one fight with Nicole, a judge sentenced Simpson to community service, which he completed by hosting a charity golf tournament.
With Simpson’s football stardom and past domestic violence documented, parts three and four focused on the murders of Nicole and Goodman and the trial, where many people will be familiar with the story.
The Bronco chase and Robert Kardashian reading a letter Simpson wrote that sounded like a suicide note and possible confession to the murders are both discussed in part three. It also deals with Simpson’s hiring of lawyers Robert Shapiro, Johnnie Cochran, F. Lee Bailey, Alan Dershowitz, Carl Douglas, Barry Scheck and others who would become known as “The Dream Team.”
Parts three and four feature interviews with most of the key players, including Douglas, Bailey and Scheck. Shapiro doesn’t appear in the documentary, and Cochran and Kardashian are both dead.
The documentary also uses interviews with former L.A. police officers Mark Fuhrman and Ron Shipp, a friend of Simpson, as well as District Attorney Marcia Clark for the prosecution. One of the biggest potential interviews missing, besides Simpson himself, is Christopher Darden, who was co-counsel with Clark.
The Simpson trial lasted 267 days, so the documentary’s coverage of the trial is mostly the highlights.
Surprisingly, the jury didn’t really care about Simpson’s past domestic violence. Juror No. 9, Carrie Bess, has some of the most interesting and shocking quotes from the trial.
The defense attacked the evidence and witnesses like Shipp, and there was also gamesmanship from the defense as it prepped Simpson’s house for a jury visit and the bloody glove.
A good deal of time was spent on the bloody glove and on Bailey’s and Darden’s involvement with what became one of the biggest turning points in the trial.
Another massive turning point was Fuhrman's racist tapes and his choice to take the stand a second time to plead the fifth. Neither the defense nor the prosecution knew of the tapes before the trial began.
The documentary also reveals that Simpson made a ton of money while in jail. He kept signing autographs to help pay for his legal defense.
While parts three and four focus on the trial, the documentary doesn't try to prove Simpson’s guilt or innocence. Edelman knows that most of us who lived through the trial already made up our minds years ago.
The Simpson trial made celebrities out of the defense, prosecution lawyers and witness such as Kato Kaelin. In some ways, it was the beginning of the way that media presents news today.
Part five begins with the verdict. The stunning part—and one that people probably forget most often—was that the jury deliberated for just a single day.
The verdict divided America along racial lines for the most part. One of the best questions asked was if the verdict was payback for Rodney King, and the answer is worth watching.
Simpson tried to go back to his life as if nothing happened, but his rich neighbors ostracized him. He also almost immediately begins to admit to the murders with agent and friend Mike Gilbert and Esquire magazine writer Celia Farber.
After being sued and losing in civil suit, Simpson moved to Florida where his life began to spiral out of control. He began to use drugs, did a horrible prank-style show called “Juiced” and had sexual relationships with a string of women.
The documentary ends with a breakdown of Simpson’s robbery in Las Vegas and the conviction that got him 33 years behind bars. Simpson’s former lawyer, Douglas, who was great in every clip shown, believed the sentence was payback for getting off for the murders of Goldman and Nicole, but Goldman’s father Fred Goldman called the Vegas conviction finally justice.
Simpson’s former friend Shipp stated that the former football player kept pushing the envelope until it finally caught up with him in Vegas. In any event, the Las Vegas robbery was just another step in a stunning fall for one of the biggest celebrities in American history.
If you haven’t seen the documentary, it is currently available on Watch ESPN and cable on-demand.