O.J. Simpson could be a free man as soon as October, having been paroled in Nevada after about nine years of a 33-year sentence stemming from a 2007 armed robbery.
Simpson is many things, and one of those things is an alumnus of the University of Southern California. So USC’s current head football coach, Clay Helton, fielded questions this week about Simpson’s future involvement on campus.
Via the Los Angeles Times:
What would you do if O.J. Simpson walked into your office?
There was laughter around the patio table. Clay Helton smiled.
“I’m cordial to every person I’ve ever met,” Helton replied.
Would you let the soon-to-be parolee watch practice?
“Currently, right now, what USC, the administration, and the athletic department have said is, ‘No, O.J. will not be a part of functions or invited,’ ” he said. “That’s been the statement by the university.”
Simpson played for the Trojans in 1967 and 1968, finishing second in Heisman Trophy voting the first year and winning the award the next. The San Francisco native ran for 3,423 yards in his two seasons at USC, before the Bills picked him first overall in the 1969 draft.
Simpson’s had a complicated relationship with USC over the years.
“Simpson Warmly Received at USC Practice” is the headline of a Times dispatch from 2002, when Pete Carroll was the Trojans head coach. That was about seven years after Simpson’s 1995 acquittal of charges that he murdered Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman in Los Angeles. An excerpt from that practice in ‘02:
"I don't think I could ever feel disconnected from 'SC, I really don't," said Simpson, who shook hands, signed autographs and posed for pictures with onlookers.
After practice, USC players and coaches warmly received Simpson with handshakes and hugs before inviting him to their makeshift locker room.
"It was good to have him out here," USC Coach Pete Carroll said. "At 'SC, our guys hold a Heisman Trophy winner in the highest regard. For them to get a chance to see him and visit with him was very special for them."
Here, you can see a picture of Simpson chatting warmly with quarterback Carson Palmer, who’d just won the Heisman himself.
"It's great to finally have another Heisman winner at SC,” Simpson told him.
The murder trial was “at the back of anybody's mind," offensive lineman Lenny Vandermade said after Simpson’s visit, which came while the team practiced in Miami before an Orange Bowl win against Iowa. "You're not going to totally block it out, but you try to look at him in a positive manner and not put a negative spin on it. I just kind of remember him as a football player and what he did for 'SC."
Simpson’s visit was controversial. One column, “Simpson Has No Place in This Family Practice,” got to that argument pretty well. Whether the school should remove a display commemorating Simpson’s Heisman win from its Heritage Hall is a debate that’s come up several times over the years.
Simpson’s not welcome back, but parts of him are still there.