San Francisco native O.J. Simpson and his Bay Area roots

SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — The continuing drama surrounding the former football great has been closely followed by many Bay Area residents since O.J. Simpson is a San Francisco native.

Magic on the field and magnetic on screens large and small

San Franciscans watched Simpson’s career rise with hometown pride.

And then they watched horrified as the native son become the central figure in what would become part reality show, part courtroom drama.

Orenthal James Simpson grew up in the Potrero Terrace housing project, playing sports starting from an early age at the nearby rec center.

He continued to grab attention at Galileo High School and later city college as a football star. His stats so impressive that when he transferred down to the University of Southern California his reputation preceded him.

“We knew he would be big, we didn’t know quite how big he would be.”

Retired journalist Dwight Chapin was a sports reporter for the LA Times in the early 60’s. He covered Simpson’s career with at USC.

“I thought he was the best running back I had ever seen and I still believe that.”

After 11 seasons with the Buffalo Bills, Simpson came back to San Francisco playing his final two seasons as a 49er. He was swarmed by his teammates on last game of his career and was teary eyed as he spoke to the press at the end.

“I don’t have to anticipate it being over anymore. It’s over and it’s been nice.”

After Simpson hung up his jersey for tv and movies, Chapin says the superstar sent him a personal thank you letter even though he had not covered “The Juice” as a sports writer for many years.

“Which is why I had so much trouble handling what happened later,” Chapin said. “It didn’t really jive with the person that I’ve known at all.”

For a young man of color reaching such fame and popularity during the 60’s and 70’s Simpson was criticized by some for not using his celebrity to advance black causes.

Civil rights activist Dr. Harry Edwards says while he didn’t agree with Simpson’s stance, he understood it.

“As he stated, everybody can’t be Martin Luther King. I’m not black. I’m O.J. What he was really saying was why do we have to be put in a position where we substitute black orthodoxy for white racism. I’m not interested in either one, I simply want to be O.J. Simpson.”

But the racial divide was never more clear after the Bay Area crowds gathered to watch the verdict come in for Simpson’s double murder trial.

The reactions of white and black audiences to the jury’s decision were visibly contrasted by color.

But Dr. Edwards says for African Americans the reaction was a reflection of a sentiment that had little to do with O.J. himself and more finally getting whites to understand the injustice the black community has long experienced.

“That finally now they know what it feels like to have a murder case where all the evidence points to one guy and one guy alone and he walks despite the evidence. That’s what they were cheering.”

It’s been roughly 50 years since O.J. lived in San Francisco. The mural on top of the Potrero Hill Rec Center is so faded he can only be recognized by his jersey number. Other traces of his links here have been erased by human hands.

Simpson’s likeness was the centerpiece of this mural celebrating Potrero Hill when it was painted in 1987. But after the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, vandals repeated defaced his image, eventually blotting him out entirely.

A steep fall from grace for one of the most beloved personalities in the Bay Area and the nation.

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