On the eve of his civil trial on wrongful death charges in the slaying of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, O. J. Simpson says he feels “as good about myself as I have ever felt.”
In a two–hour interview with The Boston Globe at his home in Brentwood last week, Simpson said he was at peace. And while he lamented the passing of his image as a hero and acknowledged that his days as a broadcaster and pitchman were over, he said he had received other business and acting offers.
He said he had retained no public relations consultants to try to burnish his image, nor does he intend to. Since his acquittal last October on charges he murdered his former wife and Goldman, Simpson insisted he has been almost universally well–received wherever he has gone.
“Let me put it this way,” he said. “I don’t believe there’s an American outside of maybe Billy Graham, or whatever, that has gotten more love from America than I have… I mean now. When I travel, you know, I don’t focus on the negative America, I focus on positive. I always have, my whole life.”
When his legal entanglements are resolved, he did not rule out the possibility of moving abroad, perhaps to the Bahamas or some other tropical locale where he could pursue his passion for golf year–round. But he said he had no plans for any such move, and stressed: “I’m an American and I love my country.”
Simpson said he is broke, and is being forced to sell his assets to pay enormous legal expenses. He has already sold his New York apartment and one of his cars, a Ferrari, and sources said his Brentwood estate is on the market. But the former football star vowed to earn back the millions of dollars he has paid to defend himself, several times over, and he defended his right to raise money off what many have called the crime of the century, especially since most of the other principals in the trial have already cashed in. “This is a capitalistic society,” Simpson said.
He said he thinks one positive effect of his emotional trial is that it exposed a racial divide in America that needs to be dealt with. He said he now feels a “calling” to become more active in the black community than he had been. He is also studying Islam, Simpson added.
Of all the topics discussed, Simpson was most exercised in alleging that he had been victimized by false and sensational reporting in the media, mostly on television. Having boned up on the subject, he spoke with almost a journalistic insider’s knowledge about issues like the effects of competitive pressures, reporters no longer needing two sources to get a story aired or in print, and an overreliance on negative stories that promote racism – even citing a Boston study on the subject. Simpson said he wants to launch a “crusade” for more accuracy and accountability in the media, adding wryly: “I’m waiting to read one day that I wasn’t really a good football player, because they’ve accused me of everything.”
Dressed casually in plaid shorts, a white polo shirt and white athletic socks, Simpson, 49, was relaxed and animated as he discussed his life over the past year since his acquittal, sitting on a sofa in his living room adjacent to a trophy case containing the Heisman Trophy he won at the University of Southern California. In front of him was a large console that controlled four televisions built into the opposite wall, where he likes to track football games from around the country.
One of his lawyers, Daniel Leonard, a partner in the Boston firm Bailey, Fishman and Leonard, was present for the interview to monitor Simpson’s compliance with a court order prohibiting the principals in the civil case from discussing evidence. Leonard occasionally stopped discussion of topics he felt might violate the order.
Friends and neighbors of Simpson said last week that in their encounters with him since the criminal trial ended he has seemed the same gregarious and self–confident man they knew before the murders of Nicole Simpson and Goldman.
As one friend put it: “He speaks passionately about his innocence and his love for the kids… but he never breaks a sweat, metaphorically, or in any way indicates he’s genuinely concerned about what’s going to happen.”
The friends said he has asked them repeatedly not to discuss with reporters his conversations or details about his life. One said Simpson was “hell–bent” on maintaining his privacy, while two others said he asked them to remain quiet because he believes the media are so intent on destroying him that they would twist any new information about him in a negative way.
Big test: Taking the stand
What emerges from interviews and from Simpson’s comments is the portrait of a proud, once–public man who ardently wants to be accepted again – if not embraced – by a nation that used to perceive him as a hero. And, despite indications that many Americans still believe he committed a brutal double slaying, it is also clear he believes deeply in his ability to convince people of his innocence.
His biggest test in that regard probably will come in the civil trial, in which Simpson will be compelled to give sworn testimony for the first time. The Brown and Goldman families are seeking monetary damages for their relatives’ “wrongful deaths” in the trial, for which jury selection is scheduled to begin Wednesday.
Even though he was exonerated of the criminal charges, Simpson and his attorneys essentially must start from scratch this week. And this time, because criminal and civil trials are conducted under markedly different rules, Simpson faces a more daunting task. There are two principal reasons: The plaintiffs in a civil case don’t need to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and they don’t need a unanimous verdict to win. Rather, they must convince nine of the 12 jurors only that “a preponderance of the evidence” indicates that it’s more likely than not that Simpson killed his former wife and Goldman.
While the two victims’ families are seeking huge monetary damages from Simpson, they’ve also made it clear that they hope their court battle will demonstrate that Simpson did indeed commit a double murder – and hold him accountable for it.
Other factors also appear to weigh against Simpson this time, according to many legal analysts. Those include the filing of the civil suit in Santa Monica, where the jury pool is more affluent and contains more whites than neighboring Los Angeles, and jurors’ greater willingness to act against someone when only money, rather than life or freedom, is at stake.
Even as he has asked friends not to talk to the press, Simpson has granted sporadic interviews and continues to seek venues in which he can try to rehabilitate his image.
The most controversial of those efforts was a fund–raiser for an antiviolence group that he sponsored in late June at his home, a closed–door event decried by advocates for abused women. The most visible of Simpson’s outings was his five–day trip to Britain in May, during which he spoke before the Oxford Union Society, appeared on TV shows, played golf and seemed to revel in the kind of adulation he used to receive in the United States.
Simpson has made unsolicited calls to news organizations, including The New York Times, Associated Press and Cable News Network. He has repeatedly phoned radio stations in Los Angeles that cater principally to black audiences, and in January granted an extended interview to cable’s Black Entertainment Television. He has focused on courting blacks, who have appeared more receptive to his overtures than the white community in which he used to spend most of his time.
Simpson has complained that he does not see enough of his two younger children, although they stay with him on weekends. Sydney, 10, and Justin, 8, have been in the custody of Nicole Simpson’s parents since the murder trial began.
Simpson initially decided after his not–guilty verdict to let them remain with Juditha and Louis Brown. Earlier this summer, however, Simpson decided to fight for permanent custody in an Orange County family court. A ruling could come any day in that case, and though legal analysts stressed that the judge could decide for the Browns or issue a delay until after the civil trial, most expected Simpson to win his battle because laws favor biological parents.
To cope with his huge legal bills, Simpson has been forced to sell some of his assets, including his 1,650–square–foot Manhattan apartment for $ 1 million. Sources in the real estate industry here said last week that Simpson’s walled mansion in Brentwood has quietly been on the market at $ 4 million for nearly a year.
Simpson has earned some money since his arrest in 1994. He made an estimated $ 2 million writing a book and hundreds of thousands of dollars autographing football cards, all from his jail cell. He sold the rights to photograph his post–verdict homecoming party to a tabloid paper for a reported $ 450,000. And while a mail–order video in which he tells his story has sold poorly in the United States, he still could make a substantial amount from overseas sales. It also appears probable that Simpson will write a follow–up book, which publishing industry insiders predicted could yield him millions of dollars.
In the Globe interview Wednesday night, his first with a newspaper since February, Simpson said he was not overly concerned about his financial straits. “I’m not crazy about it, but it ain’t driving me nuts…” he said. “I don’t think who I am is conditioned on what my financial status is.”
Simpson said he did not begrudge people involved in his trial from making money off it, as long as he could, too. “I don’t have a problem with any of them, but don’t inhibit me from doing what is my right to do, and that is to earn a living in the United States of America to support my family and myself,” he said. “This is a capitalistic society. We’re capitalists!… My thing is, don’t be a hypocrite.”
He said he had not read most of the books that have been written about his case, including the latest, “The Run of His Life,” by New Yorker writer Jeffrey Toobin, which reports that sheriff’s deputies told Simpson in advance that the jury had decided to acquit him. He would not address whether he had been tipped specifically, saying only that publicity about the book was “totally untrue.”
Contrary to most reports, Simpson insisted he has been generally well–received, not shunned, since his acquittal. For example, he said he was greeted warmly when he attended the Olympic Games in Atlanta, and that he is welcomed at the various golf courses around California he has been playing regularly, including Pebble Beach.
“I may have had the acceptance of everybody, and I may have had people who liked me, but now I know there are people who truly care about my soul,” Simpson said. “You know, who have prayed for me.”
Simpson said he has found comfort in the Bible. Walking the halls of the Los Angeles County Jail under guard, Simpson says inmates would call out, “Hey, Juice,” and urge him to read parts of the Bible: “They’d say Matthew, whatever verse, Psalm and whatever verse. You’d get a lot of that while you’re in prison… They call it ’jailhouse religion,’ but, you know, you got nowhere to turn, where else you gonna turn?”
Whereas he had viewed the Bible largely as a book filled with fables, after being charged with murder Simpson said he came to see it as providing a “road map about life.” While he still consibusiness.
On his relationship with women, he added: “I do take pride in one thing: No woman that I’ve ever been involved with in my life – and between the LAPD and FBI they’ve gone to every one of them – has not been 100 percent that O. J.’s a gentleman and a good guy…” Simpson said. “And I’ll say this, and I don’t think I’m talking about the trial, when my ex–wife Nicole, whenever she had a problem, after we’d split, she came to me. And her best friends would tell you that. If it was a boyfriend problem or whatever problem, she came to me.”
On his role in the black community now, Simpson acknowledged he has become more involved than he was before the murders. “I don’t think there’s anything I know now that I didn’t know then,” he said. “I just think that I can speak on it now where I couldn’t speak on it then…”
“It wasn’t that I didn’t care about whatever was going on in this country, but I did what I thought I could do in the areas that I can do it. And I didn’t feel a calling to be a spokesman for the black community. I felt a calling to be very successful in what I was doing, because I knew I was given opportunities no black man before me had ever been given… When I first started signing with corporate America, black America was applauding me, you know, and I felt an obligation not to screw up. And I didn’t screw up.”
Simpson said his eyes have been opened to issues he hadn’t given much thought to before, including the disproportionate numbers of minorities in prison, and the way the media portray minorities.
Watching the media
To buttress his assertion that minorities are often treated unfairly in the media, Simpson said he had referred recently in speeches to a 1987 study funded by the William Monroe Trotter Institute of the University of Massachusetts at Boston that found the city’s major newspapers and broadcast media helped perpetuate racism by the way they select and present news. Simpson went up to his bedroom, and brought down a section of a book on the subject he said he’d been reading that had the specific citation: a study by Trotter Institute associate Kirk A. Johnson that found that in 3,215 stories covered by 10 predominantly white–owned news organizations in 1986, there was a disproportionate emphasis on crime in Boston’s black community compared to positive news about the residents there.
“When you got your facts, you’re bulletproof,” Simpson said, explaining his interest in such a study. “Instead of making an accusation with nothing to back it with, in the last two years I’ve experienced that people can take whatever you’re saying and turn it anyway they wanted, especially if you’re talking more philosophical. If I’m going to spout some philosophy, I want to back it up with some facts.”
Living in the Los Angeles County Jail for more than a year, Simpson saw firsthand that there were far more minority inmates than whites: “Sitting in jail, some things become obvious to you. Why are there only blacks and Chicanos here? Are they the only ones that commit crimes?… Where are the white guys?”
Simpson accused television of manipulating reaction to his acquittal so as to make black–white differences appear greater than they actually were. “What they did, they went to the most obvious places, stuck cameras, and got what they knew they’d get…” he said. “You sent a camera to a place where you knew… you would get whites who were negative to the decision and… you put a camera in a place where you knew you’d have blacks who were positive to it. And then you had a story to go on television. You know you weren’t gonna go to someplace where it’s gonna be mixed reaction in one area, because that’s not news. What’s news is this total 180–degree opposite reaction, and you stuck cameras there and that’s what you got.”
Simpson said he will “crusade” to promote “watchdogs of the media… There’s so much competition, that we’ve compromised integrity… to be first with a scoop… And in my case, all the rules have gone out. They will put a story on that they know isn’t true when they put it on, because the next day they’re counting on another story that they don’t have to come back and say the story that we’ve given yesterday was false… Don’t go on TV and tell me that a source you heard from somewhere. Sometimes it’s two or three times removed. There was a time that you would verify it through two sources. They don’t do that anymore.”
Simpson said he had not retained any public relations consultants to improve his image, and was contemptuous of the idea. “I mean, what can a PR firm do for me I can’t do for myself?” he asked.
Asked to contrast the difference in his image as a hero before the murders and now, Simpson’s voice broke, and he said: “Yeah, I liked being a hero, and I liked my image, I still – Yeah, I did, I liked it and I took pride in it because I thought more than anybody I knew, that I represented who I represented to be… I wanted to be anything but a hypocrite, you know, and in my life I don’t think I was hypocritical about anything that I ever spoke out on or represented… And so, I liked my image and I think my image was such because people saw me. They saw I wasn’t – I wasn’t Pat Boone, but I was who I purported to be.”
As for his future prospects, Simpson said he recognized that his days as a broadcaster or TV spokesman are gone. But he said: “I have some ideas, I’ve had some opportunities that have been presented to me. And I’ll just have to wait and see, you know, how they turn out.”
He declined to be specific, but said they would involve “just being me and talking about the things that I talk about… There is an area of opportunity out there that people have already approached me about. Some are, you know, the majority are not Americans, and are companies that are not basically based in America, even though they do business here.”
He thought acting was still a possibility and said he had received some feelers, but again declined to discuss them. Laughing, Simpson said he would love to play Christopher Darden, one of the prosecutors in the criminal trial, in a movie about the case. “I want to play Darden. My part is boring – he’s sitting in the court doing nothing. I want to play Darden. Truly do. I think I couplay this guy great.”
‘This is what I gotta do’
Simpson declined to discuss the status of his own investigation to find the “real killers” of his former wife and Goldman, an undertaking his critics have derided.
Asked if he was at peace with himself, he said he is. “Well, you can see that,” he said. “I mean, right now I’ve had a few glasses of wine… I’m pretty much, ’What you see is what you get.’ I’m open to everybody, and when I go out, I meet people and I’m easy…”
“Hey, look, I have my moments. Normally when I’m alone. I’ve had nights when I’ve walked around this house, because Nicole and I pretty much put most of what you see together in this house. I mean, I’ve changed some things, obviously, because… you gotta move on with your life. But I get melancholy, you know? And sometimes even angry. But in general, you know, hey, this is what I gotta do…”
“It’s like, I had to play in Buffalo,” he added, laughing. “You know, so I did the best, when I first got there. It wasn’t my choice… But I found that it made me a better person. I believe in my heart right now I’m a better person than I was when this whole thing started.”
Editorial assistant Kim Nannis helped prepare this article.