Bradford in. Morgan doesn’t watch TV (I’ve been begging her to watch The Simpsons for a year), so I’ll be covering everyone's favorite primetime drama about "The Juice."
OJ Simpson was one of the best football players of his generation, and one of the biggest film stars of the 1980’s. His fame, wealth, and charisma brought him to seemingly impenetrable heights. Yet, if you’re young enough to Snapchat, that’s probably the last thing you think about when you hear his name. Within a few short months, the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman, completely flipped the narrative of Simpson’s life as he was named the primary suspect (and likely actor) in her death.
I’m juuuuust old enough to Snapchat, which means I was four during that nationally televised Bronco chase. Thankfully, Ryan Murphy and FX Now has wonderfully retold the saga via today’s must see show, American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson. I hope you enjoy my discussion of the intersecting themes of race, intimate partner abuse, class, and the justice system.
Leadoff hitter: Longform that lays off the first pitch.
“Choose a side!”
In the first episode of American Crime Story, the People vs. OJ Simpson ACS:OJ, the inflammatory defense attorney Johnnie Cochran demands that Chris Darden come to a decision. Will the assistant district attorney join Cochran’s fight against racial oppression in the justice system? Or, will Darden, in his role as a prosecutor, continue to aid and abet what Cochran (and every black man in southern California) saw as a corrupt and murderous police force? Darden demurs and the men continue down their respective career paths—eventual opponents in the murder trial of famed NFL running back OJ Simpson. Cochran and Darden’s opening exchange encapsulates a recurring theme throughout the show: seeking justice, even forming a conviction, isn’t as simple as choosing a side, at least when they’re presented as complete binaries. In this show’s first six hours, show creator Ryan Murphy has challenged the dominant narratives of the trial, asking viewers to “choose a side”—but only before exploring the facts from every angle.
ACS: OJ revisits all the major players you loved, hated, and gawked at. For those old enough to remember the OJ Simpson trial, Murphy and his cast capture some of the emotions viewers of a certain age felt while they had the experience as the trial captured America's attention. (If, like Morgan and I, you were too busy learning shapes and counting to “10” to grasp the enormity of the national conversation, you’ve almost certainly read this or heard many of them referenced via your parents) You're grieved when listening to Nicole's daughter’s desperate plea to hear her mother’s voice, trapped on a tragic voicemail. You debated the boundaries of Marcia Clark and Darden’s friendship, marveled at Rob Kardashian uncanny faith (both in God and in OJ), and, yes, relived the nationally televised car chase in OJ’s white Bronco. Reviving those memories makes for a good, fun, serialized romp through 1994-95.
Choose a side! Cochran and Murphy continually demand. But, again, choosing a side isn’t as easy as Johnnie would have you believe. Murphy won’t let you remember Marcia Clark as a nothing more than a shrill, comically-unfashionable attorney. Look beyond the Jheri-curl and find a mother of two never lusting for the limelight that just so happened to land the case of her life. A case, which you may or may not recall, dragged her into unbelievable scrutiny about her appearance, her body, her sexual past, and her sexual present. Would the public have examined a white and male attorney in the same way? (No.)
Remember “Uncle Chris” Darden? Sterling K. Brown’s portrayal rejects the idea that he’s merely a shill for a mostly-white prosecution team and a token black face to prove to the black community that the cops aren’t out to get another black man that made it. He’s clear-eyed about racism in the criminal justice system that made OJ someone with the potential to be sympathized with. He sees it when Cochran exhorts him to pick his side. knowing full and well the same “bullshit” he deals with in the DA’s office is the same he had to overcome fighting for his right to be a law student. So yes, he’s aware when he intentionally or otherwise , is propped up as much for his blackness as he is for his legal savvy. In that light, his decision identify Nazi-sympathizing officer Mark Fuhrman as a racist a twist that could derail the prosecution’s case is courageous.
Darden believes too strongly that “OJ did it” to make Simpson the proxy for all injustice against The Black Man. In fact, he sees how a man that may have grown up in the hood found wealth and fame brought him scores of white women and most of all, fraternization with the same police department that brutalized Rodney King just two years ago. (OJ once proclaimed “I’m not black, I’m OJ!”—suggesting his wealth had exempted him from the societal constraints of being black.) Darden is not the litigator—and definitely not the marketer—Johnnie Cochran is. But Darden cares enough to take a hit to his public persona for the sake of getting things right. Cochran tells his legal team to “fall on their sword” for their client. Darden actually does it. He’s soft-spoken and mild-mannered, stemming not from cowardice, but for a deep desire to let the truth as he sees it speak for itself.
Lest you think Murphy has selective empathy for the prosecution, observe him reject Johnnie Cochran as race-baiting caricature, and instead draw attention to a man determined to see every black man get a fair shake in court. In ACS: OJ, Cochran’s motives are abundantly clear: he wants every bigoted police officer in LA held accountable by the will of the people they swear to protect and serve. In one chilling flashback, Cochran is pulled over and pinned to the hood of his car while his two, school-aged daughters in the backseat. He starts off calm and collected, polite to a fault ( “May I ask why you pulled over?” “If you let me go in the glovebox I’ll show you my registration” *smile*) assured of his legal rights and bound by his blackness to make sure that he no police is provoked into self-defense. But as the confrontation becomes more and more tense, his anger and fear, equal parts, are on full display. “Officer! Please!” Cochran belts at the officer while pinned to his Mercedes. The younger Cochran warns the officer to “find out who I am” before arresting (or worse) a black man carving out enough legal power to retaliate in a trial amongst his peers. This scene’s efficacy stems from revealing how the case personally affects him while highlighting his genuine concern for the well-being of African Americans in the justice system. As TV Critic Alan Sepinwall notes, there are “principles behind [Cochran’s] chicanery.”
Six episodes in, ACS: OJ distances itself from cable TV courtroom drama because it insists on sharing a balanced, well-sourced depiction of the intersectional themes around Simpson’s trial. It also asks its audience to reject seeing the OJ case as the sum of its verdict. Instead, it reminds viewers that holistic justice means reckoning with the past and present discrimination against African Americans in law and order, the media's sick and sexist obsession with a working professional’s appearance, and using race to reduce people’s motives or behaviors to stereotypes “Choose a side” is well, black and white, in the first episode. By midseason, it’s a question so challenging, that my best, most conscientious answer is “How?”
Delay of game: All you can read before the clock expires.
Whose National Pastime Is It Anyway? Established: Both the US and Cuba love baseball. In fact, when President Obama visits the island later this month, priority number one for the White Sox fan will be attending a Tampa Bay Rays exhibition game. But Cuba’s not interested in a photo op, at least not one that leaves their players open to being trafficked and exploited. (They’ve lost more than 100 players to defections since Obama first announced his intention to restore ties with Cuba.) Under the current system, would-be MLB prospects must renounce their Cuban citizenship and then play smugglers. WaPo breaks this baseball diplomacy down. Then, ICYMI, this Players Tribune photo essay of Cuban MLB players seeing their families for the first time since their defections.
Make Baseball Great Again. At least two MLB owner families may not be welcome at the Trump White House should their teams win the World Series in the next four years. (Too soon for those eight year #jokes tho.) Randy Kendrick, whose husband owns the Diamondbacks, and Marlene Ricketts, whose family owns the Cubs, have made substantive donations to a late-to-the-party super PAC with one mission: #NeverTrump. But Trump may have picked up the bigger endorsement this week: former Yankees star Paul O’Neill joined fellow pinstripe alum Johnny Damon in throwing his weight behind the billionaire.
Reporting while female. All the horrifying details of Erin Andrews’ stalking and invasion of privacy came out this week. But don’t assume for a second that the Fox Sports journalist story didn’t point to something larger. Increasing numbers of female broadcasters have publicly addressed being attacked by sexist tweets and posts. But how many of us realized how many had been followed, changed hotel rooms after they felt their security had been compromised, or been subject to in-person lewd remarks from strangers? I’m a female journalist and I had no idea. Here’s SI’s report.
New normal. If you don’t think about it too hard, the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) announcement that refugees could compete in the 2016 Rio games sounds moving. But don’t let your emotions get ahead of yourself. Why? First, these type of gestures reveal just how status quo today’s refugee situation has become—despite the fact this includes more than 20 million people—and an additional 30 million internally displaced. But second, the IOC is not a passive bystander in world affairs. Its last host, for instance, literally invaded a neighboring country the week the games ended. Then, it wrecked havoc in Syria. (Seriously, Russian airstrikes have killed nearly 1,500 Syrian civilians.) Ugh. #Pray4Refugees. (If you’d like to add to the IOC’s $2 million donation, you can give here, here, or here.)
Just blew it. So once upon a time, Nike invested millions of dollars into Kenyan athletics. "The money was supposed to be used to help train and support poor Kenyan athletes who dream of running their way out of poverty,” reports The New York Times. But it didn’t. What happened? And why is China involved? And why have multiple people investigating anti-corruption in the country fled or hidden their identities for safety? It’s a thrilling tale until you realize that once again, the powers that be screwed more poor, brown people.
#She4She. On Monday, former tennis great Billie Jean King gave a keynote address advocating for FIFA to remember the ladies. "It's not like they don't know it, but I think this is their moment of truth because of the corruption and all the things they've had to deal with lately,” she told the New York Times. “And I am a big believer, when there's a crisis, there's opportunity. It's a moment to have historic transformation at FIFA and I will make my case.” (That new president Gianni Infantino has four daughters has also gotta help.)
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Twenty-four days until Opening Day!
Morgan + Bradford