'OJ: Made in America': 5 Biggest Surprises and Key Takeaways

Episode 1 of ESPN’s “OJ: Made in America” only hints at the insanity to come


The first episode of ESPN’s “OJ: Made in America,” focuses on OJ Simpson’s early years, and only hints at the tragedy to come. Here are five surprises, and why they’re significant.Also Read: How ‘OJ: Made In America’ Is Better Than Any Other OJ Simpson Retrospective

1. He Married His Best Friend’s Girlfriend  Childhood friend Joe Bell recalls how Simpson “stole his best friend’s girl” — convincing his first wife Marguerite to marry him instead of Al “AC” Cowlings. 

Cowlings, of course, was the endlessly supportive friend who took the wheel as Simpson fled police in the white Bronco.

2. He Knew How to Get Out of Trouble  In high school, when a coach caught Simpson and his friends shooting dice and took them to the principal’s office, Simpson waited a few beats and then followed the coach out. Bell recalled him explaining, “I was just helping Mr. McBride bring these guys down here. And Dean Smith let him go.”  

The film suggests that Simpson’s gift for getting out of tight situations have him a false sense that he was indestructible.

3. OJ’s Father Was Gay  Bell also recounts his discovery that Simpson’s father was gay: “Back in our day, that was the worst thing you could ever think about an African-American man,” Bell said.

Prosecutors say Simpson once beat Nicole Brown Simpson for letting a gay man kiss his son, Justin, during a family trip to Hawaii. 

4. “I’m Not Black. I’m OJ.”  Sociologist Harry Edwards — featured prominently in “Made in America” — tried in the late ’60s to get black athletes to take political stands. “We were trying to get black athletes to understand they have a role in the current Civil Right movement,” Edwards said. “His response was, I’m not black. I’m OJ.”

Edwards inspired two track stars, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, to give the black power salute at the 1968 Olympics. Simpson wondered if they had been used by the movement.

“OJ’s quest was to erase race as a defining factor in his life and that was the basis upon which white society not only accepted him but embraced him,” Edwards says in the film. “Now there are problems with that because what enabled OJ to be OJ and not be black was that so many Negroes and black people stood up, made the sacrifice, paid the price.”

Though Simpson was skeptical of the gesture at the ’68 Olympics, one of the jurors in his case — a former Black Panther — raised a fist to Simpson after finding him not guilty of murder. (The moment was dramatized in “The People v OJ Simpson”) 

5. He Was Rough With Nicole on Their First Date  Her friend, David LeBon, remembers her returning from her first date with Simpson with her jeans ripped. “And she goes, well, he was a little forceful.”

Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ron Goldman, were murdered on June 12, 1994. Simpson was charged in the killings and acquitted the next year.

Even if you’ve seen OJ: Made in America and “People v OJ Simpson,” here are 5 OJ Simpson Facts You Still Don’t Know.
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