By Stacy M. Brown (NNPA Newswire Contributor)
After serving the better part of a decade in prison, NFL Hall of Famer and cultural icon O.J. Simpson was released from the Lovelock Correctional Center in Nevada on Sunday, October 1 at 12:08 a.m.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Nevada Department of Corrections spokeswoman Brooke Keast said that was by design.
Simpson’s release was largely overshadowed by news coverage of the mass shooting in Las Vegas during a country music festival, that left more than 50 dead.
“Keast said there were no media present at the time he left—avoiding fears of a chase on Nevada highways that might have brought back memories of the notorious Ford Bronco chase in 1994,” the Los Angeles Time reported.
In the Los Angeles Times article, Keast said that the release was incident free and that it was exactly what prison officials had hoped for in the interest of public safety.
“I do not know where he’s going,” Keast said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “I didn’t want to know, to be honest.”
In 2007, Simpson and a group of other men, two of them carrying guns, went to the Las Vegas hotel room of a sports memorabilia dealer and took hundreds of items from him, according to The New York Times.
“Mr. Simpson said he was merely reclaiming property that had been stolen from him, but he was convicted in 2008 of robbery, kidnapping and other charges,” The New York Times story said.
Now that Simpson is free, there’s rampant speculation that he will likely sit for a major television interview with the highest bidder, then make his way back to Florida where he’s expected to serve out the rest of his sentence on parole.
Several experts told the NNPA Newswire that they believe Simpson, 70, should simply stay away from the spotlight. While at least one said that Simpson might pitch a reality television show, others said they believe his age and his family will keep him away from the media.
“Quite frankly, what he needs to do is spend time with the remaining members of his family, stay out of the media and away from the cameras,” said Philadelphia-based attorney Fortunato Perri, Jr., an attorney in the firm, McMonagle, Perri, McHugh & Mischak, the team that represented comedian Bill Cosby during his criminal sexual assault trial earlier this year. “Certainly, [the 1994 murders of Simpson’s ex-wife and her friend] had something to do with the makeup of the 33-year sentence in this case.”
Perri continued: “Wherever he goes, whatever he does, that’s going to be something in his past. He’s an older gentleman now and I think he’ll stay out of the limelight.”
Dr. Marsha Brown, a forensic psychologist of the Institute for Behavioral Sciences and the Law in Coral Springs, Fla., said that Simpson’s 1995 acquittal in “The Trial of the Century,” was incredibly polarizing and divisive. Many people, who believed that he was guilty of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, felt that the former NFL running back was wrongfully avoided prison time.
“In a 1995 CBS poll 76 percent of Whites thought the former NFL star was guilty, while just 22 percent of Blacks thought so. Now, 79 percent of Whites and 41 percent of Blacks think that. Only 10 percent of Whites and 39 percent of Blacks think he is not guilty, according to Newsweek.com.
So, when Simpson was convicted of robbery and kidnapping in 2008 and sentenced to 33 years, the people, who believed that he was guilty of the 1994 murders, celebrated the lengthy sentence handed down as “just desserts,” said Brown.
“Due to public curiosity about him, as well as today’s tendency to film and post even the most mundane events on social media, it may be nearly impossible for Simpson to stay out of the spotlight completely,” Brown said.
Community reintegration can be difficult and there will always be someone watching, she added.
Brown continued: “In any case, many people hope Simpson will be able to do something productive, meaningful, and beneficial to society.”
Ben Bogardus, an assistant professor of journalism at Quinnipiac University, said news cameras will likely always follow Simpson, because people remain fascinated with the rise and fall of the American sports legend.
“Public interest is also high, because people who lived through his original murder trial will feel nostalgia when watching the coverage, and a younger generation knows the story from the award-winning FX miniseries,” Bogardus said, speculating that Simpson may even pitch reality shows to networks to earn money. Simpson is still on the hook for the $33 million judgement levied against him by the Goldman family in civil court.
Simpson realizes that many people still view him as a murderer, despite his acquittal in the 1995 case, said Charles Ewing, a forensic psychologist, attorney and distinguished service professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
“It will be hard for him, but my advice would be to keep a low profile and stay out of the public eye as much as possible,” Ewing said. “If he needs to become a public figure again, he should do it on behalf of charitable causes. [Also], he of all people should realize how racially-biased and draconian our penal system is, so I hope he would work on behalf of prisoner’s rights and criminal justice reform.”
Helen Drew, a sports law expert at the University of Buffalo, said residents in upstate New York, where Simpson starred with the Buffalo Bills, hardly recognize the former athlete today.
“The O.J. I recall from my childhood, here in [upstate] New York, barely resembles the man we saw on television at the parole board hearing,” Drew said. “I would hope that he will get counseling and medical treatment, if necessary. When I last saw him on television, he appeared to be struggling to walk.”
Drew continued: “It’s hard to predict what this O.J. will do now. Certainly, as a younger man, he courted fame and seemed to relish the spotlight. Now, however, that might be entirely different.”