O.J. Simpson needs no introduction.
A gifted, albeit retired, American footballer, Simpson was arrested in 1994 for murdering his estranged wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman. Years later, Regan Books, as part of HarperCollins and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, commissioned Simpson to write a memoir, which they entitled If I Did It.
The controversial book describes how the athlete-turned-actor would have hypothetically carried out the killings, which became one of the most high-profile criminal cases ever taken to trial in Los Angeles, if not all of America. He was eventually acquitted; a verdict that brought one of the world’s most theatrical courtroom dramas to an extraordinary climax, and highlighted the simmering racial tension that had been convoluting in the States for centuries.
Simpson was later held responsible for the murders in a civil law suit in 1997, and ordered to pay AED 121 million in compensation to the Goldman and Brown families. He has never done so, and the Goldman family were subsequently given ownership of the copyright of the book (by a bankruptcy court judge), which they later published, without making any amendments, as the confession of their son’s killer.
If I Did It, which was described as “one of the most chilling things I have ever read” by Barbara Walters, hit bestseller lists after Simpson was arrested in Las Vegas for armed robbery and kidnapping in 2007. It has recently been announced that Simpson could be paroled as soon as October, after serving just nine years of his 33-year sentence. With Simpson back in the media’s spotlight, MOJEH reads his notorious memoir and considers what, if anything, can be learned from his case.
From the get-go, Simpson’s nonchalant narrative is extremely engaging. His personality and characterful voice is consistent and present throughout the book, which has a seamless flow that allows for an easy read. This informality adds to the reader’s overall understanding of Simpson who, has previously been elusive, and relays his side of the story with no interruption. He gets straight to the point, quickly recalling his first meeting with Nicole, who he describes as “a stunner: Blonde, slim, and bright-eyed, with a smile that could knock a man over”.
She was 18-years-old at the time. He was a married man, and over 10 years her senior. He goes on to reveal, in excruciating detail, their tumultuous relationship. “Did things get volatile from time to time? Yes.” He admits. “Do I regret it? Yes. I loved Nicole. She was the mother of two of my kids, and the last thing I wanted was to hurt her.”
But rather than a heartfelt account of sorrow, love and regret, If I Did It evolves into a tale of jealousy, obsession, and anger. For over 20 years, Simpson has largely been portrayed as a monster and wife abuser, and in this long (largely haughty) flashback, it’s clear that the primary purpose of his book is to argue that he’s simply a good guy whose been handed the short straw in life. He admits to having faults, which include losing his temper once in a while, but who doesn’t? However, somewhat painfully, the blame always falls on Nicole – her insecurities and mood swings made life unbearable, he argues. A strange sentiment to have, one could argue, regardless of their difficult marriage, considering the circumstances surrounding her death.
The most extraordinary part of If I Did It is chapter six, ominously entitled ‘The Night in Question’. This is when Simpson bizarrely recounts murdering his estranged wife and her friend. He is sure to reaffirm that the confession is “hypothetical” beforehand, but his story is bloodcurdlingly graphic and hauntingly specific. Insignificant details have the reader wondering why, if the confession is fictional, they’re included at all? To complicate matters further, the ‘false’ is intertwined with the ‘truth’. Simpson describes his own “pretty tense” childhood, including a falling out with his father that resulted in them not speaking for 10 years, before shamelessly describing the killings. As for the deed itself, his mind goes blank until it’s all over. “Something went horribly wrong, and I know what happened, but I can’t tell you exactly how.”
For those fascinated with the O.J. Simpson murder case, and the questions it arouses about domestic violence and racial discrimination, If I Did It is a fascinating read. Whether you think he did it or not, this fictional confession is unlikely to change your mind, but it continues to highlight failings in how domestic abuse is often handled by the police, and in many instances, couples and their families themselves. Despite the civil law suit in which Simpson was found responsible for the tragic murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, their deaths legally remain unsolved.
Perhaps the hardest lesson from the O.J. trial is having to come to terms with the fact that in life, the truth is not always fully exposed, but as long as we keep searching for answers, we learn things about ourselves, as well as each other.