Does the lesson of O.J. apply to Winston?

by Gary Shelton on June 21, 2016 · 0 comments

in general

Tuesday, 6 a.m.

We try to make things so simple, don't we? We ignore history. We deny nuance. We want just the facts, ma'am. We want to be comfortable; we tend to ignore the layers of subtext.

Which brings us to O.J. Simpson.

And, eventually, to Jameis Winston.

As a younger man, I ignored the preamble to the O.J. Simpson case. Like most of white America, it was a trial I watched with blinders on. I saw

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a running back, and I saw evidence that screamed that he was guilty, and I didn't see anything else. Why should I have bothered to look?

Even now, years later, I am convinced that Simpson got away with murder. The trail of blood, the DNA evidence, the history of domestic violence, the clownsmanship of the If I Did It book -- all of it convinced me early that the man who had been designated as a hero was a phony. For all of my shortsightedness, I still believe that.

I didn't see a link with Rodney King.

I wasn't overly concerned about a racist cop.

I didn't care for dramatics about a glove and whether it fit.

More than anything, this is what the ESPN's excellent 30 for 30 documentary on Simpson did. It made me look again. It made me consider what others were considering so heavily.

There was such a divide between white America and black America because of our histories. Some of us could not see what others were seeing.

Black people had lived through Rodney King. His scars were their scars, fresh and painful. White American saw it, and while it disgusted them, eventually looked away. Whether Mark Fuhrman was a racist or not was beside the point to a lot of our country; it was an essential point to many others.

In the end, this was the success of the Dream Team of lawyers led by Johnnie Cochran and Robert Shapiro and the rest. They were able to divert the case away from Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman to make the trial about prejudice and past injustices and an untrustworthy police force. Black Americans had lived through those inadequacies. Finally, with Simpson, there was a defendant who had the money to pay his own lawyers to twist his own facts.

In the end -- and I did not get this at the time -- the trial was only a bit about O.J. Simpson. You can argue it should have been. Instead, mistrust and suspicion and outrage entered that courtroom.

I believe this: If Simpson had been Caucasian, he would have been found guilty. If there were not those devastating films of King being beaten inhumanely, he would have been found guilty. If Fuhrman had been honorable, he would have been found guilty. If Marcia Clark and Chris Darden had been halfway decent, he would have been found guilty. If the L.A. Police didn't have such a rotten reputation of bending the law to their whims, he would have been found guilty.

But he was not, because those things did exist. The Simpson verdict, it seems in hindsight, was a comment on America and the people in it. I know a great many black people who think that, yes, Simpson was guilty of crime in a flawed America. And those flaws got him off.

Simpson's attorneys, particularly Cochran, did a masterful job of blurring the lines (and sometimes redrawing them). The DNA didn't count, not when you had Fuhrman being compared to Hitler. The blood trail didn't matter, not when there were memories of King.

In the end, the trial wasn't about what Marcia Clark intended. It was a social commentary about a racial divide. Never mind that Simpson was absolutely the wrong man to benefit from it. He was the man who could afford to benefit.

Now, a generation later, Bucs' receiver Louis Murphy has pointed out that some fans dislike Winston because of race. And people are all a-twitter over it.

First things first: I know a lot of Bucs fans, and they love Winston's smile and his leadership and his competitiveness. Oh, I'm not naive. I have no doubt that there are fans who dislike Winston because of his race. That's probably true of Russell Wilson and Teddy Bridgewater and Tyrod Taylor and Geno Smith. It is a mistake to ever completely discount racism.

But Murphy is a thousand percent wrong that fans think that Johnny Manziel is so utterly charming. He's a buffoon who sacrificed his career to get to a better party. Most people think he's a cartoon, and you can throw his waste in alongside Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell and be done with it. No one thinks Manziel is cute. No one wants to see him in charge of their team.

Like it or not, the main reason for most of the animosity toward Winston were the horrible rape allegations against him, and the feeling that the Tallahassee police department, a bumbling bunch of Barney Fifes, botched the case beyond recognition. The cops made sure that any suspicion about him would linger by screwing up the case so thoroughly.

But, yes, the charges against him were serious enough to remember.

Ah, but there are perceptions. Maybe, if Winston were white, people would focus less on the charges than on the exoneration. Like with Peyton Manning.

Are black quarterbacks treated the same as white ones? The stars are, but how about the failures? Russell never got a second team; Leaf did. Akili Smith was out of the league in a hurry.

The point is that Murphy doesn't see through the same viewpoint as many of us. But he's walked through the same tunnels as Winston. He's heard the same insults from the stands. Even if we disagree, even 20 years after Simpson, we have to acknowledge that.

What's the point? There is history. There is nuance. There are layers. There are reasons to be suspicious.

Somewhere, through your eyes, through your neighbors', there is truth.

Whether each of us can see it is another matter.

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