One of the most polarizing figures in American History was O.J. Simpson. He succumbed to his battle with prostate cancer on April 10. He spent the better part of the last seven years of his life as a free man. But for the majority of my lifetime before that, I knew him to be mired in controversy.

When you’re of a certain age, you have to be educated about what people did in the era before you came along. I grew up knowing that Ronald Reagan was a former president of this country. It wasn’t until my teenage years that I learned that he used to be an actor. I also grew up on Full House. So, finding out in my college years that Bob Saget was a comedian before that, was a shocker. It was especially shocking because he was known for his raunchy comedy style. So, when it came to O.J. Simpson, the first thing I ever knew of him was the murder trial in 1994.

I don’t think I’ve witnessed any event that captivated the collective attention of the country until 9/11 or Black Lives Matter. But as a pop culture happening, this trial stands alone. I understood back in 1994 that Simpson was a Heisman trophy-winning football player. It was told to me that he played for the Buffalo Bills. But at five years old, I still didn’t understand the magnitude of the player or personality that he was. Over time, I learned, and the pre-trial O.J. Simpson was legendary.

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Simpson’s career before the controversy mirrored what a lot of what athletes’ careers look like nowadays. He spent time working as an analyst on television. Not to mention, he was one of the early NFL personalities who got into movies and commercials. Known as one of the most charming people in pop culture, I’m sure at the time, it seemed like Simpson could do no wrong. Once Simpson was accused of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown, everything changed.

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This trial took place in the wake of the senseless beating of Rodney King by the LAPD. So there was a microscope on how this trial would be handled. Enlisting the counsel of famed attorney, Johnny Cochran, Simpson gave himself the best chance at victory. And that’s what Simpson experienced: victory. In the fall of 1995, Simpson was acquitted of the murder charges levied against him. This was after a trial that went on for over a year. And at the time, me being six years old, it sure as hell felt like it. It’s been said in documentaries, that the jury involved in this trial saw this as an opportunity to not have another Black man suffer at the hands of “justice.” Some view this verdict as revenge for the Rodney King beating and the litany of other issues involving Black people and police brutality.

Regardless of any of our sentiments, when it came to this case, in the eyes of the law, Simpson was an innocent man. From what I can recall, Simpson’s existence between 1995 and 2008 was relatively low-key. But he found himself once again in the crosshairs of the law. Claiming that some of his memorabilia was stolen from him, Simpson and a group of men attempted to forcibly get the items back. A Las Vegas court found him guilty of armed robbery, and he then stayed in prison for another nine years. Many in our community viewed this as poetic justice, and it might have well been. Some people will never view Simpson in a glowing light, and that’s perfectly legal.

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It’s weird when someone passes away and you hope to be able to refer to their time on this earth in a respectful fashion. So much of that esteem is earned while we are all living Maybe Simpson softened some hearts with his appearances on It Is What It is with Ma$e and Cam’Ron. Others could surely care less. But we can certainly recognize his positive contributions as an athlete before becoming a polarizing figure. But you can’t solely focus on that. We have too much of a sample size of behavior to know that his life wasn’t as squeaky clean as he may have liked us to believe. And believe me, we all fall short, but there are no doubt levels to all of this. How you live matters.