Stop being, an Uncle Tom, you little sell-out/House n%##a scum/Give something back to the place where you made it from/Before you end up broke/Fuck around, and get your ghetto pass revoked/I ain’t saying no names, you know who you are you little punk/Be true to the game
Ice Cube “Be True to the Game”
O.J. Simpson’s story is complex. On one hand, he is the typical athlete who grew up in the hood, made it big in sports and turned his back on the community that helped raise him. On the other, despite being a stellar athlete, he became increasingly famous—then infamous—after he left the game.
Growing up in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill—a mostly African-American working-class neighborhood—Simpson was well aware of the hardships that faced black people in the 1960’s. Much like the rest of the nation, 1960’s San Francisco was a hot bed for activism. There were several Freedom Marches and protests for equal pay and employment in San Francisco throughout the decade/
Despite what he’s become, Simpson wasn’t always oblivious to social issues. In a 1967 interview with local San Francisco television station KPIX, Simpson spoke highly of fellow athletes using their celebrity to spur activism. “I think it’s good, because guys like Jimmy Brown and like you say Russell and a few others, they have shown that you can make it. They have went into sports and become very successful and now they are in a position where they can talk because they can say I did and you can do it,” said Simpson. “That’s what I’m trying to do right now. I’m trying to make it. I came from a pretty rough neighborhood around Hunter’s Point and I feel like If I make it, that would be a good example for other kids. I’m working towards a goal and if I make it, I’ll be a good example just like Jim Brown was to me.”
Just one year later, Dr. Harry Edwards says that O.J. hit him with the line that solidified his sellout to most of black America. When Edwards attempted to recruit Simpson into a collective of black athletes that included Muhammad Ali, Lew Alcindor, Jim Brown and more–guys he had just complimented the year before–the then USC star running back responded by saying “I’m not black, I’m O.J.’”
Even with his flip-flopping on civil rights issues, there was still hope that Simpson would get his mind right and join the fight. A newspaper article from 1969, finds Attorney Donald Warden (know known as Dr. Khalid Abdullah Al-Mansour) writing complimentary words about his hope for Simpson to become a community activist. It is, of course too early to give the particulars of O.J.’s future leadership in definitive terms, but the following clues picked up in the newspapers do make us smile: O.J. says “Money won’t change me.” He is committed to the back woman and stability of the black family. He is dedicated to education. He is committed to the development of Hunter’s Point.
Keep in mind that the man who wrote those statements was an advisor to Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale and also helped them form the Black Panther Party. Go figure.
O.J. was a sellout in every sense of the word. He arrived at University of Southern California and immediately began drinking the Kool-Aid. And it worked for decades. O.J. was one of the greatest running backs in NCAA football history. From 1972-1976, Simpson was also among the top backs in the NFL. Even after injuries cut his career short, he had a successful career as a pitchman for various brands (most famously Hertz) and as a talking head on football broadcasts.
For years, rumors floated around Hollywood about O.J.’s volatile and abusive relationship with women, but it wasn’t until June 17th, 1994 that everything fell apart.
A lot has been made of the African-American community cheering for Simpson to evade the police on that fateful day and celebrating even more when he was acquitted. In reality, Simpson’s former community was never rooting for him. Black people were rooting against a system that had oppressed so many people of color for so long.
Sure, O.J. appeared in videos and even hosted a handful of hip-hop concerts post acquittal, but he wasn’t a part of the community. He was still a court jester, just in a different setting.
Simpson’s belief that he had somehow transcended race was bred from the exact same mix of arrogance and ignorance that led him to believe he was above the law. Those decisions eventually cost him millions of dollars, his freedom and reputation. Hopefully, Simpson’s fall from grace will be a cautionary tale to the fence sitters and Johnny come lately arm-locking players who change sides on today’s racial and social issues like most people change socks.
Now that Simpson has been paroled and is back on the streets, we will see if he has learned that although he was acquitted of murder, he is black man, forever guilty of killing a blue eyed, blonde haired white woman, in the eyes of most Americans. If damn near a decade in jail for “stealing” his own property doesn’t convince him of this, nothing ever will.