When O.J. Simpson leaves prison for the first time in almost a decade, possibly as early as Oct. 1, he will no doubt have a list of things he wants to do.
See his children. Reconnect with old friends. Play golf. Figure out why people are making themselves look like dogs, mice and pieces of bread in photos on smart phones that will disappear in 24 hours. Figure out why anyone would take a photo only to have it disappear in 24 hours, for that matter.
Actually, that last bit might be instructive.
Simpson’s release from prison – his parole hearing in Nevada on Thursday is considered something of a formality – will produce a spectacle unlike anything we’ve seen since he went behind bars. He’s been a national obsession for the better part of a quarter-century now, these past nine years the closest there’s been to a respite, and his release from prison will only renew the rabid curiosity.
Has his time behind bars changed him? Does Simpson, who turned 70 on July 9, look different? Is he repentant? Humbled? What does he have to say now about the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman?
It might be tempting, both financially and psychologically, to indulge the hype. A few months back, there was even speculation he could land a reality TV show.
It also would be the worst possible thing he could do.
Instead of courting the spotlight, Simpson needs to disappear. Walk out of prison, head straight for an SUV with tinted windows – definitely not a white Ford Bronco – and vanish from the public eye, leaving the gawkers in his wake without so much as a wave or a glance backward.
Otherwise, he risks falling into the same toxic mentality that landed him in prison in the first place.
“He just says, ‘We’ll be together again, my life will go back to normal,’ ” longtime friend Tom Scotto told USA TODAY Sports over the weekend.
Normal? There’s never been such a thing for O.J. Simpson.
A Hall of Fame running back who became a beloved broadcaster, actor and pitchman, Simpson wasn’t just a household name. He was a welcome guest in every American household.
Until the murders.
The Bronco chase, the so-called “trial of the century,” the bloody glove, those “ugly-ass shoes,” even a Kardashian thrown in for good measure – we didn’t realize it then, but the O.J. circus was the advent of reality TV. Everything about Simpson, before and after the trial, became a source of fascination.
Simpson was acquitted of murder charges Oct. 3, 1995, but was found responsible for Brown and Goldman’s deaths two years later in civil court. He was ordered to pay $33.5 million in damages to their families.
That’s not why he’s in prison, though. A confrontation with memorabilia collectors in Las Vegas led to armed robbery and kidnapping charges, and he was sentenced to a minimum of nine years in 2008.
Simpson’s time behind bars hasn’t diminished interest in him. A documentary on him won an Oscar this year while a television series dominated the Emmys last year. It’s no surprise, really. We have become a culture that revels in celebrity, drama and other people’s misfortunes, and Simpson checks every one of those boxes.
Which makes a vanishing act all the more imperative.
Simpson knows what happens when ego and hubris get the best of him. “I just wish I’d have never gone to that room,” he said, referring to the Las Vegas robbery, during a 2013 hearing that led to him being paroled on five of the lesser charges against him.
There’s even less benefit now to being a public curiosity.
Sure, there will be some who wish Simpson well. But many more will be rooting just as hard for him to fail. Opinions were set hard and fast long ago, and nothing Simpson does after his release is likely to change them.
Besides, any money he makes wouldn’t be his for long, anyway, with the Brown and Goldman families expected to renew their pursuit of the millions they’re owed. Though Simpson can shield many of his assets – his NFL pension, for example, is protected by law – Goldman’s father was awarded the rights to Simpson’s supposed confessional, If I Did It.
Though Simpson’s friend Scotto says the former football player is “in the best shape I’ve ever seen him,” we all have expiration dates and Simpson is closer to his now than when he went to prison.
He’s wasted the past nine years of his life. Unless he stays out of the spotlight, he’s likely to burn the rest, too.
By Nancy Armour
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.