Parole was reasonable, but it still feels like O.J. is conning us

You obviously know that O.J. Simpson was granted parole Thursday.

It was hard to miss.

When has a parole hearing for a robbery been televised live nationally?

Once it was announced he was paroled, the Huffington Post headline was, “The Juice is Loose’’ even though he may not be paroled before Oct. 1. The New York Times put the news on the top of its website, and the Washington Post had a picture on its first web page.

That begs the question: What is it about O.J. Simpson that still has a hold on this country?

Two TV documentaries about him in the last year got good ratings, and one was the first TV documentary to win an Oscar. His parole hearing was much hyped.

Yet nobody under 40 remembers Simpson as a player and nobody under 25 remembers his acquittal on double murder charges after his ex-wife and a waiter were found stabbed to death outside his ex-wife’s condo. Simpson subsequently lost a $33.5 wrongful death suit.

The legacy of O.J. Simpson has endured.

My take on O.J. is that we often never really know what celebrities are like behind the scenes.

Simpson was viewed as one of the good guys as a player. He was charming and had charisma and was a natural with the media. And he was famous as a pitchman running through airports and for his movie roles.

As a reporter who covered O.J., I was fooled as much as anybody.

And yet he was playing a role all those years. The O.J. we saw wasn’t real.

He was still playing a role in his parole hearing. He was the same old O.J., displaying his charm and not showing much remorse for being the driving force in the rather bizarre Las Vegas memorabilia robbery.

He said he had basically lived a “conflict-free life.’’ He even said, “Nobody has accused me of pulling a weapon on them.’’

He always got away with creating his own reality.

He talked about how he missed his kids. The one fault he did admit was his lack of fidelity.

Still, I really couldn’t argue with granting him parole. The prosecution had offered him a plea deal before he went to trial for much less jail time. Simpson, apparently thinking he could get away with anything, turned it down, was convicted on 12 counts and sentenced to nine-to-33 years. Would he have gotten the same sentence if not for his previous acquittal?

One member of the parole board said they didn’t consider the 1995 case in their deliberations. They were inundated with letters pro and con about Simpson. The woman held up a stack of the letters.

One thing Simpson did reveal was the racial divide in this country. The memories of the Los Angeles riots after the police officers were acquitted in the Rodney King beating were still fresh in everyone’s minds.

Black America cheered when he was acquitted and white America was stunned, even though the prosecution botched the case with overwhelming evidence in its favor.

CNN, though, did report in a 2014 poll that a majority of black Americans no longer think he was innocent in the double murder.

The irony of it becoming a race case was the fact that Simpson was never an active member of the black community. He lived, socialized and played golf in white America. He seemed stunned when the white executives he knew shunned him after the trial..

Now the question is where does Simpson go from here? His eldest daughter said the family just wants him to come home.

He was a model prisoner, but that may have been another role he knew he had to play.

At age 70, can he follow the strict rules of his probation and stay out of the spotlight?

Can he be Orenthal James Simpson, the dad, and not “The Juice”?

That will be the next chapter in the life of a man who knows all too well what it is like to be a celebrity in America.

We already have the title of his biography, although it wasn’t written about him:  “An American Tragedy.”

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