x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Simpson comes to a whimpering end

The man who received one of the biggest and most publicised free passes in United States judicial history found a way finally to stumble into a long prison stay.

The man who received one of the biggest and most publicised free passes in United States judicial history found a way finally to stumble into a long prison stay. There were no protests or over-the-top media coverage when the NFL Hall of Famer OJ Simpson was given his minimum nine-year sentence in a Nevada courtroom on Friday. His time in the public eye has come to a whimpering end.

Simpson, 61, who made his name with the Buffalo Bills from 1969-77, was found guilty of armed robbery and kidnapping for an incident in 2007 at a Las Vegas hotel when he and other men forcefully tried to retrieve property that the former running back claimed was his. Just before he learnt his fate, a shackled Simpson did speak. This is something he never did during the 1995 criminal trial over the killings of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman.

This time Simpson, at times, asked for leniency, while at other times seemed almost defiant he had actually committed the crimes he had been found guilty of. "You know, I wasn't there to hurt anyone," he said. "I just wanted my personal things, and I realise that was stupid of me. I'm sorry. "I didn't mean to steal anything from anybody, and I didn't know I was doing anything illegal. I thought I was confronting friends and retrieving my property. So I'm sorry. I'm sorry for all of it."

"As the judge in this case, I'm not here to sentence Mr Simpson for what has happened in his life previously in the criminal justice system," said Jackie Glass to the court. "I'm not here to try and cause any retribution or any payback for anything else. I want that to be perfectly clear to everybody." What is interesting about this statement is that it is the opposite view of most people I've spoken to. The consensus is that people are not very familiar with the details of the current Simpson case, some even told me it smells of a setup, but they added that it was payback time for Simpson. The phrase, "he had this coming", was commonly used.

Following his murder acquittal in 1995, Simpson did not drop off the face of the earth. He was in the media on a regular basis, from truculent interviews, to minor scrapes with the law, to a video of him on a golf course - Simpson almost revelled in his infamous acquittal. I met him in 2003 when I was among the producers for a television interview he was doing. To be five feet from a man you completely believe murdered two people is a surreal feeling.

You try to be professional, but at the same time you are transfixed on every nuance of his behaviour. It is as if I was looking for some type of poker-game tell that would let me know what he did to those two victims. The part that will stick with me forever was when in the middle of the interview, there was a pause to change tapes. It was quiet. Simpson looked at the host and asked him: "Do you think I did it?" The host paused to collect himself and responded: "Yes, I do."

Simpson just lightly nodded his head as if he understood, leaned back in his chair and continued the interview. For me it felt like he was saying: "Yeah, I got past you as well." Now, the first NFL player to rush for 2,000 words in a season will be in prison until he is at least into his seventies. Most youngsters have no memory of Simpson's greatness on the gridiron fields. This generation may, at best, remember his commentating career or his mediocre foray into movies.

For now, the last image of Simpson will be of a confused man in a blue jumpsuit and handcuffs, thinking to himself: "How did I end up here?" @Email:ppabst@thenational.ae