Yesterday a Nevada parole board voted unanimously to grant parole to O.J. Simpson. Simpson, who is now 70, has served nine years for robbery and kidnapping offenses stemming from a bizarre incident in Las Vegas. He could be released from prison by October 1.
Simpson told the parole board that he’s changed. Whether that is true or not, only he knows . . . but I wonder if the world in which O.J. Simpson became the focus of seemingly unending national attention has nevertheless stayed the same. Simpson’s parole hearing — normally a proceeding that happens without being noticed by anyone except the convicts, their attorneys and families, the parole board, and perhaps the victims of the crime — drew worldwide attention, and as soon as the decision to grant parole was announced it was immediately the lead item on all of the news websites. It was an uncomfortable reminder of the American obsession with his murder trial — not exactly a sterling moment for the news media, the police, the legal system, the weird Hollywood world in which O.J. Simpson and Nicole Brown Simpson lived, or anything or anybody else that was involved in that whole sordid spectacle.
At his parole hearing, Simpson said he just wants to reconnect with his family and has no interest in being in the limelight. Of course, our crass culture being what it is, Simpson is reportedly being besieged by TV producers who want to pitch him as the star of a reality TV show, and no doubt he’ll have plenty of other opportunities to get back on TV in some fashion if he wants to do so. I sincerely hope he resists the temptation and sticks to his stated intention to just live out the rest of his life in as private a way as possible.
In America, we accept the verdict of juries and parole boards and other elements of the criminal justice system — whether we agree with them or not — because that’s how the law works. Part of that process means moving beyond the old controversies and, finally, letting old obsessions go. I don’t want to read anything more about O.J. Simpson, nor do I want to think, ever again, about a time when our whole country seemed slightly off its rocker. But, will Simpson, the news media, and the Hollywood hype machine cooperate in achieving that goal?