Football icon. Movie star. Pitchman. Father. Spousal abuser. Stand-up comedy fodder. Family Guy character. Disgraced author and accused killer. Social media personality is just the latest in a lifetime of hats that O.J. Simpson has donned.
The 72-year-old former tailback now spends his days filter-free at Las Vegas golf courses, restaurants and presumably his place of residence, waxing poetic about the world from his Twitter handle @TheRealOJ32. “If you don’t see it here,” his Twitter bio reads, “I didn’t say it.” His account is unverified, although the disturbing charm in his tagline — “Hey, Twitter world. It’s yours truly.” — essentially serves as his own blue check.
He has more than 912,000 followers. Of the 24 accounts he follows, most are sports-related, such as television networks, his former teams and, ironically, the Heisman Trophy. Simpson also keeps timeline tabs on running backs Barry Sanders, Adrian Peterson, Eric Dickerson, Chris Johnson, Jamal Lewis and Terrell Davis.
“I laughed for 20 minutes when I found out O.J. joined Twitter. If you ever wanted to know when it’s time to leave Twitter, this was it,” said comedian Roy Wood Jr. “It’s like when your mom added you on Facebook and you were like, ‘I want to avoid that nonsense.’ ”
Welcomed or not, since Simpson created his account in June, his topics have been on-brand and peculiar: the Democratic presidential debates, fantasy football, free speech, Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon’s holdout, trolling the Miami Dolphins’ front office and more.
Just last week, Simpson filmed himself at a golf course offering wide receiver Antonio Brown legal advice that would’ve been hilarious if it weren’t so sobering. More than 1.6 million people watched him say, “They told me that when you’re in a civil or criminal litigation, and you’re the person they’re coming after, the best thing you can do is say nothing. Be quiet. Essentially shut up.”
Like his critique of Brown, Simpson’s most interactive tweets come when he addresses polarizing sports topics. Especially when he aligns them with his imploding fantasy team that features the recently retired Andrew Luck (and Brown).
“You could have retired an hour and half ago, before I picked you in my fantasy picks. I mean, what did I do? I’ve been a fan of yours. Why would you do this to me? Come out of retirement,” Simpson told Luck on Aug. 24. The Luck tweet received 5.7 million views, 65,582 likes and 15,363 retweets.
Simpson uses Twitter by forgoing 240 characters for his own face. Watching his videos is an experience in moment-by-moment contradiction. He’s still charismatic. He’s as natural in front of the camera now as he was doing NFL sideline coverage or as Detective Nordberg in the Naked Gun comic film series alongside actor Leslie Nielsen. But you’re still reminded of what he’s done and what he’ll always be accused of doing.
“He’s used Twitter almost exclusively for video content. It tells me a lot about how O.J. conducts himself in the public eye,” said Saida Grundy, assistant professor of sociology and African American studies at Boston University. “It’s as though he’s auditioning to get back to being a sports commentator. He’s like, ‘This is my second wind, right?’ ”
As history has revealed, with Simpson, what’s seen in public is impossible to discuss without an examination of his personal life. Nearly 24 years have passed since Simpson was found not guilty for the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman in 1995. Eleven years have passed since his conviction for armed robbery and kidnapping in Las Vegas. In October 2017, he was released from Nevada’s Lovelock Correctional Center.
Since then, Simpson has lived a tame life. And now it feels like he’s campaigning for reconsideration. As if he wants to make the social media generation question everything written and reported about him since 1994. Did I miss something? This is why he was so beloved?
“I don’t think a network is going to touch him,” said Jaia Thomas, a sports and entertainment lawyer based in Los Angeles. “I do think this is his way of positioning himself to do something else in sports or entertainment, but it’s going to have to be something he self-starts.
“Aside from his criminal activity, we can’t deny the fact that he is a personality. He does have that exuberance to him that can easily attract folks to follow him. Sometimes it just doesn’t take a lot for us to forget someone’s past, or to overlook them, for a 30-second video.”
Wood added: “He knows the game of football, he still might be able to tell you which wide receiver is gonna have a good game, but it ain’t gonna lead to [him] sitting next to Chris Berman and Tom Jackson breaking down games. O.J. needs to lay low.”
As Simpson stutter-steps his way through his curated timeline, it becomes clear that for a man who’s been famous most his life, and loathed for the last quarter century, abstaining from public notoriety was never an option.
“I don’t think O.J. exists outside of the white public gaze, and he can’t stay away from that adoration,” said Grundy. “And when you have such an unrepentant history of domestic abuse in your private life, you rely upon the public to create the counter to that image. He still needs us to believe he’s the character called O.J. Simpson.”
Simpson didn’t construct this character all by himself, of course. American culture is obsessed with celebrities, and the nature of that obsession has changed since Simpson’s famous trial. The journal Cyberpsychology published a study stating that the thirst toward celebrity culture shifted between 1997 and 2007, credited to the expansion of the internet. In 1997, fame was ranked 15th out of 16 values when studying the sitcoms that 9- to 11-year-olds deemed popular, such as Boy Meets World and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. A decade later, in shows such as Hannah Montana and American Idol, fame was the dominant value. Following it were achievement, image, popularity and financial success.
So the ground was already fertile for Simpson to flourish. An award-winning TV series (FX’s American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson) and documentary (ESPN’s O.J.: Made in America) both took his name through the ringer. More than 3.4 million viewers watched the premiere episode of Made In America, proof that the appetite for “The Story of O.J.” is insatiable. And Simpson has no issue satisfying the demand.
“I really do believe this is O.J. watching himself through us. I think he’s addicted to that,” said Grundy. “It’s like his own porn. He exists seeing himself being seen.”
Simpson’s Twitter account gained followers even as the debate around “cancel culture” has heated up — a conversation Simpson has been tied to well before the phrase became a permanent part of the public lexicon. In essence, this is the act of getting someone out of the paint or stripping a celebrity of their cultural cache. The idea has existed for decades, although the practice has come under debate as celebrity transgressions, both past and present, frequently play out on social media.
Criminal accusations against R. Kelly and Bill Cosby, for instance, barely scratched pop culture’s surface for years — until the Surviving R. Kelly docuseries released in January and a joke about the allegations against Cosby from comedian Hannibal Buress helped turn the tables into legal action.
Being canceled via social media doesn’t always equate to professional cancellation, though. Director Woody Allen continues to finance his own projects despite a decades-long allegation of sexually abusing his adopted daughter. Or witness the continued debate around Michael Jackson after the documentary Leaving Neverland detailed Jackson’s alleged sexual abuse of two boys. Some believe it’s character assassination of a dead icon. Others grapple with rethinking everything they thought they knew about a man whose music defined multiple generations. “Cancel culture is not really canceling anyone,” said Grundy. “O.J. is not canceled, and he knows that.”
Wood makes a similar point: “O.J. Simpson has been canceled, re-canceled and triple-canceled and he’s just oblivious to it. He doesn’t acknowledge it,” he said. “If you ever wanted proof that you don’t necessarily have to obey cancel culture, it’s O.J.! O.J. just walks right back in like, ‘Nah, no big deal.’ ”
As Simpson continues to experiment with Twitter, what he won’t find is wide-scale empathy — if that’s a treasure he seeks. It seems unlikely that we’ll ever collectively decide to let bygones be bygones for Simpson. That would require that he acknowledge his past. At this point, there are 900,000 reasons that it’s difficult to envision he ever would.
Don Cheadle has nabbed a couple of Screen Actors Guild awards, a couple of Golden Globe awards and an Oscar (as a producer for 2004’s Crash), and he’s been nominated for Emmy awards and an Oscar for his acting work in 2004’s Hotel Rwanda. He even collected a Grammy for the Miles Ahead soundtrack, for the 2015 biopic that he wrote, directed and starred in.
But one award he’ll likely never win? Top dog in fantasy football. He tried it for the first time while he and the superstar cast of Avengers: Infinity War were shooting this latest Marvel masterpiece — and he finished dead last. Because of that, he was a target of explicit trash talk from the people who portray some of the world’s most beloved comic book superheroes. Trust Cheadle: He won’t be putting himself through that again. He will, though, talk about sports films, black filmmaking in a post-Black Panther world — and why he doesn’t like taking the easy way out.
You excel at bringing nuanced, gritty characters to life. But in the Marvel Universe, you get to have a little fun.
Things flying, you’re shooting, you’re in fights and battles. You get to do those things that I did, anyway, when I was a little kid. I’m a physical actor, so I love to do stunt stuff. I love to do the stuff on the wires. … War Machine gets to have a sense of humor and cut up … but he’s also dealing with some heavy stuff. To be able to do that kind of a range in a movie like this, where it could just be about green screen and people in CGI [computer-generated imaging] battles, it’s nice [when] you get to dig in a little bit sometimes and act.
Infinity War is coming right behind Black Panther, a film that has opened conversations about predominantly black films doing well here and in overseas markets. You’ve been verbal about fighting to get funding for passion projects and black stories.
Look at the history of black people in the movies. … You had the blaxploitation period, where there was a lot of work for black actors in a certain genre. Then there’s a fallow period. Then an upturn, like in the ’80s, but it was all around gangster and ’hood movies. Then it kinda went fallow again. Now we’re in this moment again where they can’t find enough makeup and hair people for black people because so many of them are working. All the barbers are working. All the makeup people for black people are working. If you took the 10,000-foot perspective, if you’re gonna be honest … this is what’s happening now. And I don’t know that it means this trend is going to carry forward. But while we got the door open, get in here, get in here, get in here. Get stuff made.
What’s the key to your consistency?
Desperation! A constant fear that it’s all gonna be over one day and everyone’s gonna find out that I’m a fraud.
Every time we’re done with a job, that’s it. You’re unemployed. You want to believe that, yeah, something’s gonna happen and I’m gonna be good. But you don’t know. There’s those five stages of the actor’s career that we talk about all the time: Who is Don Cheadle? Get me Don Cheadle. Get me a young Don Cheadle type. Get me a young Don Cheadle. Who the hell is Don Cheadle? I started my company for job security, you know? Because there wasn’t a lot coming down the pipe … that I wanted to do. So you gotta create that thing that you want.
You’ve been with this character for at least eight years now. How has that changed things for you? Has being part of this franchise gotten you through more doors? Or attention for your passion projects?
It’s allowed me to pay for them. It’s allowed me to spend some change and not need it to make money, do it because I want to do it, and if this one doesn’t hit, then I’m still fine. Miles Ahead, I spent my own money on that movie, and it didn’t make $4. It was an expensive film school for me, but it was still important for me and my career, a necessary process I had to go through. Having the Avengers allowed me to take that hit and not have to sell stuff. By the time I got into these films, I’d established my presence in this town.
And then some.
Memories are short in this town, and memories are short for audiences. It’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately kinda situation. ‘Nominated for an Oscar? That’s amazing. What did you do this year?’ That part is the challenge. And we never know how something’s gonna do, really.
In ’96, you brought streetball legend Earl “The Goat” Manigault to life for HBO. Are there other sports stories you’d love to tell?
If I portray him, it’s gonna have to be a sports hero who’s torn his ACL. Has a jumper’s knee! Whatever great legend there is who doesn’t really like to walk up and down stairs anymore, I could do that kind of story. The sports aspect of it would need to be accompanying a human story … like Hoosiers — great sports movie. Great because there’s something about the hero’s journey.
It’s about what happens off the field.
And the sport supports what is happening with that person’s life. … It has to not be [that] sportscentric.
I saw the Twitter beef back in January about fantasy football — you versus Captain America. You finished last place. How does that happen?! You were the superhero of NFL ads!
Oh, you mean because I did a commercial I know how to pick fantasy football?!
That didn’t translate?!
Chris Evans was like, ‘Hey, you wanna be in a fantasy football league?’ I’m like, ‘Sure.’ He’s like, ‘You pick players, and you kind of make your teams up.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ve heard about it … let’s do it.’ Here’s what I didn’t realize about fantasy football: every week, [Infinity War co-director] Joe Russo would come up to me and go, ‘Hey, have you set your lineup?’ And I was like, ‘Set my team? I already picked my team!’ He’s like, ‘Oh, no, every week the teams change and their stats change, and you gotta go see who’s on IR [injured reserve] and you gotta take them off, and you’re gonna need to get a good defense. …’ And I’m just wide-eyed.
Wait. This was your first time playing fantasy?
Yes! After about three weeks I was like, this is a job. And I have a job. I have a family. I have Twitter fights to have. I can’t be doing this all day.
How do you measure success? What’s the barometer for job well done for Don Cheadle?
I think that has to happen at the end. That’s almost a deathbed thing, you know? Or when you’re like, ‘I’m hanging it up.’ It’s when you’re finished and you look back and see if you checked the boxes you wanted to check, see if you left it all on the field. I’m still in it. For me, it just would be a way of thinking, ‘Did you not push yourself in a place you could have pushed yourself? Did you not take a chance, did you play this one safe?’ If I look back and see that, yeah, I ducked that one and I skipped that one — I haven’t done any of those things. So I feel like I’m being successful in my journey … but I got a lot of work to do.
A lot? I think some would disagree with you on that.
I think that’s proper. I’m supposed to be going ‘not yet’ on myself, so I don’t just sit on the couch and eat bonbons and just watch Netflix.
That said, what’s your next passion project?
I’ve written a movie, and I’ve sold the movie that I’ve written. It can’t go into production this year because of all the work that we have this year. But perhaps next year we’ll shoot it. It’s kicking my a– right now. I don’t pick easy ones.
Can you tell me what the film’s about or who the film is about?
What could I say? It’s a concept that I came up with. It’s a thriller/horror movie. Those are very hard to do well.
We saw some recent success, though, last year with Get Out, obviously.
That’s the thing: to be innovative, and be interesting, and use different subject matters, and still do the things that people want. You know, you still have to give people what they want, but you wanna do it in a way that’s interesting and maybe in a way that they haven’t seen it before … to pull the audience in or to keep them on the edge of their seat. That’s a high bar. It’s a challenge.
But that’s what drives you, yes?
Yeah. I’d love to have the courage to sell out a little bit and not have to have it always be so damn hard, you know? But I’d be bored if I did that.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Hey, gang, it’s been a rough weekend, but on Monday I’ll be on Around The Horn if you’re interested in that: 5 p.m. Eastern time on ESPN, kiddos. Might be my second win of all time, but I doubt it, haha.
marshawn lynch in an “everybody vs trump” shirt. wow pic.twitter.com/HJLFU4CQqv
— kelly cohen (@politiCOHEN_) October 1, 2017
O.J. Simpson is out of jail. No matter what you may think of his ability to walk this earth as a free man, dude is definitely back on the street. It’s sort of a weird feeling, considering why he went in to begin with was a bit dicey and lots of people feel like he was doing a prison sentence for something he was already acquitted of, fairly or not. That said, what he does now is definitely of interest to a decent part of the nation. My personal opinion is that he’ll have a wildly popular podcast that will bring him mucho cash. Alas. And he likes McDonald’s, apparently.
Las Vegas is mourning. Last night, during a concert in an open-air venue, a man started firing upon the crowd and killed more than 50 people in the deadliest mass shooting in American history. It’s terrifying, it’s awful, it’s gross and it’s not remotely unusual if we’re being honest with ourselves. Authorities are calling him a lone wolf, which isn’t really of a whole lot of importance to the families of the dead, along with us looking to not get shot by a maniac with too many guns. Guns kill people. That’s what they’re made to do.
Recently, there was a tragedy at Yankee Stadium. A kid got hit by a foul ball in a scene that was entirely too real for some people just looking to enjoy a ballgame. Since then, there have been calls to put up screens all around ballparks, a move that I personally think would really affect the game-day experience but ultimately would make us all far more safer. As for the girl who was hit, she’s effectively got a broken face and also had bleeding on her brain. Please pay attention at baseball games, folks. It could save your life.
I like fantasy sports. As a matter of fact, I’ve got a fantasy NHL draft tonight. But how these fantasy games affect the players themselves is always an interesting quandary. I remember a couple of years back when the NFL’s Chris Cooley said he was really pumped to score three touchdowns in a game because he knew it would help him win his fantasy matchup that day. That was a real live football player talking about something that happens only inside of computers, which is hilarious. You know who doesn’t care about fantasy football? Richard Sherman.
Coffee Break: Watching a woman dunk a basketball is an interesting thing. Because we see it so rarely, whenever it happens, people tend to lose their minds. People also tend to think that because of the lack of dunks, women’s basketball is inferior. That’s wrong, but dunking could bring an element to the game that people would love.
Snack Time: Lacrosse is a very white sport. Why, who knows, but the culture around the game is one that borders on discriminatory at best. This story about a lawsuit re: participation in Philly is fascinating.
Dessert: New Quavo and Travis Scott? Yes and no, but it’s coming.
It’s official, I’m playing fantasy football this season. Not with my friends, since they kicked me out of the league, but with my office, since, yanno, I signed up. My squad name is “DONT @ ME PLEIGHBOI,” so take heed. Can’t wait.
Your periodic reminder that a great evil has befallen the world yet no one is talking about it. pic.twitter.com/opfIq1aujh
— Hend Amry (@LibyaLiberty) August 28, 2017
A police officer is going to jail for unreasonable force. In Chicago, no less. I, for one, am shocked. In most places in the United States, because of the way our justice system is structured, never mind institutionalized racism — both of which overlap — law enforcement officials are almost never convicted of such acts. Rarely are they even charged, for that matter. But this case was so egregious because the offending officer tried to say that he was hoping to save one teen’s life by shooting at him in a car full of others. Yeah, nah. That makes no sense.
Maybe Tuesday will be another big ratings win for President Donald Trump. After he made that awful quip Monday, while Texas was being pummeled by Tropical Storm Harvey, regarding why he decided to pardon Joe Arpaio, Trump’s headed to Texas on Tuesday. Lucky for him, he’s got another crisis on hand to try to capitalize on. North Korea has apparently launched a missile, which flew over Japan. Trump says that as far as retaliation, all options are on the table. Whatever that means.
Ed Skrein has a perpetual invite to the cookout. He was supposed to be playing a role in a new Hellboy reboot that was initially written as a person of Asian descent. But when he learned that, instead of adding to Hollywood’s huge issue and basically core value of whitewashing everything, he pulled out. Like, legit said, “Nah, I’m good, this isn’t right and I don’t want to contribute to this problem.” So don’t tell me that it’s impossible to switch things up to make them right when you realize something is wrong in casting.
Tropical Storm Harvey is clearly creating problems across multiple fronts. Obviously, the flooding and destruction are devastating. As a result, the sports world is certainly being affected. Most pro sports teams in Texas have had to relocate games, and it’s affecting historically black colleges and universities as well. The Labor Day Classic between Texas Southern and Prairie View A&M has now been moved to Thanksgiving, which means the whole weekend of festivities surrounding that event has unfortunately been canceled as well.
Coffee Break: Speaking of Houston, that’s where Joel Osteen works and worships from. You know that guy with the crazy televangelist following and huge church? Well, he apparently doesn’t want to open his doors to help folks. Of note: Most mosques in Houston have.
Snack Time: Remember when Kathy Griffin took those pictures that featured what some people thought was a beheaded Trump? Well, a new profile shows how off-the-charts reactions were to that. Pretty big wow, here.