Sports world reacts to OJ Simpson death with silence and derision

If anything got to the heart of OJ Simpson’s troubled legacy in the NFL, it was the lack of reaction to his death from a sport at which he excelled.

Simpson, whose death at the age of 76 was announced on Thursday, was one of the greatest running backs of all time. He played in the NFL for 11 seasons, led the league in rushing on four occasions and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985. His induction into the hall came 1src years before the murder trial, where he was controversially acquitted of killing his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman, that would overshadow his playing career.

That trial, which ended his image as a lovable retired football star, explains the silence. When Jim Brown, a similarly talented running back, died last year the NFL tweeted a tribute within minutes of the announcement of his passing. “We are heartbroken by the passing of the legendary Jim Brown,” read the tweet. “One of the greatest players in NFL history, a true pioneer and activist. Jim Brown’s legacy will live on forever.” In contrast, the NFL’s only tweet on Thursday morning was a look back at the 1989 draft.

On the NFL’s official website, which usually posts lengthy tributes to former stars when they die, often with video from the league’s huge archive, Simpson’s death was reported with agency copy. There was no look back at his greatest games or finest touchdowns.

ESPN, the mainstream voice of sports in America, aired a segment in which reporter Jeremy Schaap reflected on Simpson. “Anyone who has seriously looked at the evidence … would have to come to the conclusion that he was a murderer,” said Schaap. “And so am I filled with sorrow today? I’m not.”

NFL teams post tributes to social media when one of their former player dies, even if they only had a brief time with the franchise. But the Buffalo Bills, where Simpson played most of his career and became one of the most famous men in America, did not acknowledge his death on their social media accounts on Thursday. Several hours after Simpson’s death the most recent tweet on the Bills’ X account was a happy birthday message to one of their former wide receivers, Steve Tasker. Simpson’s other professional team, the San Francisco 49ers, and his college team, USC, also chose not to mention his death on their X accounts.

High-profile athletes such as LeBron James, who often reacts to the death of former sports stars, were largely silent. Caitlyn Jenner, who was an Olympic champion when Simpson’s football career was at its peak, tweeted “Good riddance”. Former NFL receiver Torrey Smith was one of the few football players willing to say anything remotely positive about Simpson.

“The amount [of] journalists/media companies that are using OJ’s court pictures to announce his death is disgusting! Regardless of what you may think about him he was innocent in court and has kids out here,” wrote Smith.

But while the sports world stayed largely silent, Simpson’s death was soon trending on X. Many of the most popular tweets were of Simpson being welcomed to hell.


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