Shona Robinson- Edwards, PhD Researcher and Assistant Lecturer in Criminology

The imprisoned former NFL player O.J. Simpson has become a household name. Simpson’s latest parole hearing is likened to the so-called Trial of the Century in 1995 when he was tried, and acquitted, of the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman (Holpuch, 2017). To put this into context, many of us ‘Millennials’ are too young to remember when this historic trial actually took place, but it is something that many of us have grown up discussing in both academic and social settings.

The way in which Simpson’s cases have unfolded have shocked many, and just to rub salt in the wounds Simpson is set to be released from prison as soon as October 2017. Whilst discussing the case of O.J. Simpson with friends and colleagues, the question that always comes up is ‘Did O.J. really get away with murder… how is this possible?’  Some explained that, yes Simpson was a successful NFL player, with wealth and privilege, but wait for it, he is Black.  It is acknowledged that for a black male to be on trial, and later acquitted of the killing of two people (one being his ex-wife) is a difficult concept for many to understand, welcome or even accept. But to solely focus on race leaves out a broader level of discussion, class, privilege and status undoubtedly played a huge role here.

Fast forward a few decades, watching Simpson’s parole hearing it was clear that this was going to once again open up a discussion about Simpson’s criminal past. Perez-Pena (2017) writes about Simpson’s previous aired trial explaining that ‘in the mid-1990s, there was just one cable news channel, and social media did not exist. The internet, reality television and the media ecosystem of wall-to-wall coverage of anything sensational were in their infancy’. Essentially now we live in the media (Dueze, 2012), and in 2017 newer forms of media have propelled this story into the limelight, easily accessible to many across the globe. Simpson’s parole hearing was streamed live on a number of media platforms, additionally journalists, bloggers and editors provided a step by step commentary. Yes, it was visible to see Simpson’s physical difference, having said this he has been incarcerated for 9 years. Visibly greyer, but even in basic attire, a light blue denim shirt, dark jeans and white trainers, Simpson still portrayed an element of confidence. Simpson made eye contact, in some parts smiled, and even laughed on a few occasions, Simpson believed he had the ability to persuade, and he did.

But what struck me the most was the portrayal of what I called the 3 r’s, Religion, Remorse, and Responsibility. Religion – Simpsons Christian faith was explored, and he was asked about his commitment to Christianity and his role in starting a Baptist ministry in prison. Simpson clearly expressed a faith based narrative throughout the parole hearing, making reference to God and his Christian faith, “I was always a good guy, but could have been a better Christian, and my commitment to change is to be a better Christian.” Shapiro (2017). Irrespective of our personal perceptions of religion, it is clear that religiosity is a topic of current debate when we look at prisons, offenders and ex-offenders.

Remorse and Responsibility go hand in hand. Simpson showed and expressed emotion throughout the hearing, I’m sure Simpson knew that portraying a hyper masculine persona would not work in his favour, therefore adapting his approach. Simpson also portrayed visible relief stating “I take full responsibility.” further Simpson’s body language when hearing that he had been granted parole, illustrated his happiness and somewhat gratitude.  Whether Simpson is genuinely remorseful is debateable, and whether the role of Christianity has helped him to become a ‘reformed’ character is also questionable. What is clear is that in recent times the focus on religion and offenders and/or ex-offender has become more openly discussed on various platforms. Irrespective of our personal views relating to religiosity, ex-offenders and rehabilitation, Simpson is a 70 year old man, whom attributes commitment and positive change to his Christian faith. It will be intriguing to see if Simpson’s faith based narrative and strong Christian beliefs continue to manifest beyond the prison walls.

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