Sunday, September 23, 2007

Public awaits O.J.'s final chapter


Robert Seltzer
San Antonio Express-News

He had one of those names that screamed out "geek," a name fit for a professor who favored tweed jackets with elbow patches.

Orenthal James.

But Orenthal James, aka O.J., was no geek; he was an artist in cleats, a runner who turned a game into a ballistic ballet.

If only his grace had extended beyond the stadium, but O.J. Simpson had a hard time distinguishing between power plays in football and power plays in life.

When he retired, Simpson took off his cleats and pads, but he never shed the pride and arrogance that make great players great.

And so, when he was acquitted of murdering his wife and her friend in 1995, he could have tried to rehabilitate his character — a challenging task, yes, but one he never even attempted.

After all, he was acquitted, so he had the law, if not public opinion, on his side.

But, no, instead of trying to redeem himself, he sank into a bizarre world of exploitation, trying to make money off the two corpses.

There was his autograph session two years ago in Los Angeles, part of a slasher movie convention staged on the 10th anniversary of the murders — nice.

Then, about a year later, he tried to turn blood into gold again, writing a book titled "If I Did It," recounting how he would have committed the murders if he were the killer.

No, Simpson is not exactly a marketing maven, his desire for money trumping his elegance in acquiring it.

Which may explain the latest incident, the bizarre episode in which the ex-football player dropped more F-bombs than he ever heard in the locker room, according to tapes released by the victims of an alleged robbery attempt.

But it was not the cussing that was so shocking; it was the brazen attitude of a man who, given his history with the legal system, should have been a little more circumspect.

Simpson, charged with 10 felony counts, faces life in prison for the alleged robbery attempt at a hotel room in Las Vegas.

"I'm intrigued by his presence everywhere," Harry Haines, a communications professor at Trinity University, said. "Just when you think he's old news, he's back again. It's amazing to me that he maintains such a high interest level."

One reason for the fascination, Haines said, is that his story reads like a play with the final act missing.

"There's a widespread feeling that a perpetrator was never brought to justice," he said. "So whenever he's in a jam, people ask, 'Is this the point where we see justice?'"

As a pop culture icon, Simpson is more interesting than the other figures jockeying for space in the celebrity magazines.

"I find Paris Hilton exceedingly boring," Haines said. "Every time I see her on television, I think about disconnecting the satellite dish."

The ex-football great was not always the controversial figure he is today; during his playing days, he condemned another great runner, Jim Brown of the Cleveland Browns.

Brown, acquitted of four assault charges between 1965 and 1985, has rehabilitated his character, working with gang members to keep them on a path that leads to success, not to prison.

Now an executive with his old team, he gets good press, his misdeeds so long ago that they seem illegible on his résumé.

Not so with Simpson, whose moral trajectory went in the opposite direction — from good to bad.

"Everybody loved O.J.," Haines said.

If there is a tragedy here, however, it is not that Simpson is beyond redemption. No human being is. No, the tragedy is that, unlike Brown, he does not realize that redemption is necessary.

"When it comes to narcissistic personality types, he's in a class by himself," Haines said. "He does not even consider the necessity of rehabilitation. My assumption is that he feels beset upon, that he has been inconvenienced and mistreated. It's mind-boggling."

Orenthal James Simpson might have been better off if he had been a geek.