King Kaufman's Sports Daily

O.J. 3: Sorry, media hordes. This one won't do boffo numbers. Plus: NHL follows up a big success -- four years later.

By King Kaufman
Published September 19, 2007 3:00PM (UTC)
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Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz describes reporters convening in Las Vegas to cover the O.J. Simpson robbery case greeting each other by waving three fingers in the air and proclaiming, "O.J. three!"

Is it really?

Simpson's mid-'90s criminal and civil trials in the deaths of his ex-wife, Nicole Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman were culture-altering events that gripped this country in a way that's almost unimaginable now that our attention is often divided between two or three photogenic white girls who are missing.

We in the media are gleefully gearing up for a third round now that Simpson has been arrested on a host of felony charges stemming from his allegedly bursting into a hotel room with some armed cohorts and trying to claim some memorabilia he says belonged to him.

The media has set up camp, the cable channels have gone into full obsess, the pundits have begun punditizing on the whole thing and I'm proud to add another meta-layer by commenting on the pundits' commentary.

But I don't think this one has the legs of the first two.

Maybe this is O.J. 3, a rubber match, if you will, after Simpson was acquitted of murder in the criminal trial in 1995 but found liable in civil court in 1997. But don't expect this chapter to be as good as Ali-Frazier 3. Leonard-Duran 3 is more like it. Too much time has passed. O.J. has lost a step, and I think the public has lost interest in him.

Oh, there's momentary fascination, in a celebrity-gossip kind of way, in the robbery charge and the audio clip purported to be a recording of the alleged crime. O.J.'s got our attention for the moment because the whole episode is just so bizarre and funny-pathetic.

But can interest in O.J. 3 survive the next episode of "Look What Britney Did"? Is it going to keep our interest even when Brangelina splits or when the dormant Paris Hilton relaunches?

I don't think so. Simpson has gone from being a fascinating nexus of our individual and collective fears, prejudices, beliefs, suppositions and memories to being that annoying sociopath who lives down the street and crashes your parties.

His murder trials were cauldrons of issues having to do with race and class and law enforcement and celebrity and media and justice. This time? A third-rate robbery. And Simpson's actions in the intervening years, his increasingly strange bids for attention, have closed the divide he once created among the citizenry.

A U.S. News and World Report survey taken after Simpson's acquittal in the murder trial found that 62 percent of white people thought he was guilty and 55 percent of black people thought he was innocent. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll at the same time found that 20 percent of whites but 62 percent of blacks agreed with the not-guilty verdict.

We're as divided racially today as we were in 1995. But I don't think there's going to be that kind of divide over O.J. Simpson this time around.

This time around is an amateurish robbery, not a double murder, so it's inherently less compelling, but it was that divide that gave the O.J. story its real, forgive me, juice.

The media, dutifully hooking up the satellite trucks and booking the talking heads, is acting reflexively, fighting the last war: "It's O.J.! Scramble!" But I think the numbers won't be there this time and the show will close early. And yes I know I'm doing it too. I think the media reaction has been interesting even if Simpson himself no longer is.

After all these years, O.J. may finally be headed to the prison cell a lot of people think he deserved a decade ago. Prosecutors have said he faces "a lot of time." But beyond that, he's about to get hit with the worst punishment our society can dish out: low ratings.

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NHL gives the people what they want -- eventually [PERMALINK]

Boy, the NHL doesn't miss a trick. In 2003, the Montreal Canadiens beat the Edmonton Oilers 4-3 in an outdoor game at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton in front of 57,167, the biggest crowd in NHL history. The contest also got the CBC's largest TV audience ever for an NHL game.

And only four years later, the league's ready to do it again!

The Buffalo Sabres will host the Pittsburgh Penguins on New Year's Day at Ralph Wilson Stadium, which has a projected hockey capacity of more than 73,000, according to the Canadian Press. Tickets sold out in less than an hour.

With interest as high as that, look for the NHL to put on another outdoor game in only three years.

What I find most interesting about this game is the timing. It's scheduled for 1 p.m., meaning it'll be competing with several bowl games. Would any sport have dared to schedule a big event for 1 p.m. on New Year's Day 30 or 20 or even 10 years ago? That day used to belong to college football, which simply gave it up. Amazing.

Previous column: Conservatives rule the NFL sidelines

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  • King Kaufman

    King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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