Sportswriter: Acquittal of O.J. Simpson Perhaps ‘One of the Biggest Civil-Rights Victories’ of the ’90s

May 30th, 2016 10:13 PM

Like almost everyone who has the sense God gave geese, Will Leitch thinks O.J. Simpson is an unconvicted murderer. Unlike most of those people, Leitch also thinks Simpson’s acquittal “may have been one of the biggest civil-rights victories” of the 1990s.

In a New York magazine review of the seven-hour, 43-minute documentary O.J.: Made in America, which airs in five parts next month on ABC and ESPN, Leitch remarked, “The verdict was just cause for all that national celebration from African-Americans, even if [Simpson] was guilty. Shit, especially if he was.”

To Leitch, the acquittal amounted to partial recompense for the black community of Los Angeles, given “the city’s [history of] scabrous racial politics, from the southern blacks who came to Los Angeles expecting acceptance and discovering something far different, to the Watts riots…to former LAPD chief Daryl Gates’s horrific racial attitudes…It all exploded with the Rodney King riots, which were less about King and more about the seeming impossibility that a black man could ever win anything in a court of law in the city of Los Angeles.”

From Leitch’s piece (bolding added):

does not pretend…that O.J. was innocent; if the detailed history of Simpson’s brutal abuse of Nicole wasn’t enough, a horrifying 15-minute segment in which former prosecutor Bill Hodgman coldly lays down precisely how Simpson butchered Nicole and Ron Goldman will remove any lingering doubts. But it reminds us of the evil of Mark Fuhrman — who appears in the film, older but mostly unchastened — and also of how he was less an outlier in the LAPD than a symptom…The verdict might have been bullshit. That doesn’t mean, in its own way, it wasn’t a grand victory…

O.J. is full of footage of blacks and whites reacting to the verdict in diametrically opposite ways, and the genius is that you absolutely understand why both sides were sort of right...

…I was in college in central Illinois when the verdict came down, and like every white person I knew — and I almost exclusively knew white people — I was appalled that O.J. had been acquitted and baffled that anyone would celebrate it. But I’d understand it today.

And the reason I’d understand it is that, like everyone else, I hear from so many more voices now — so many more people of color, people who understand what life in L.A. has been like for black people for decades.

Leitch, who founded the snarky sports site Deadspin, now writes, podcasts, or both for outlets including Sports on Earth and The New Republic.