Sports commentator Roy Firestone has come to the defense of Roy Firestone in the face of criticism for a clip from the early 1990s that showed him conducting what appeared to be an overly “chummy” TV interview with O.J. Simpson about domestic violence and his relationship with his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson.
It was one of the most jarring moments in Part 2 of “O.J.: Made in America,” the ESPN documentary that is airing this week and adds the context of the times to Simpson’s life and trial for the 1994 murder of his wife and Ronald Goldman. Part of that context comes from an interview Firestone did with the Hall of Fame running back, who was acquitted in the 1995 “trial of the century.” In the clip, which Firestone says comes from 1992, he asks tepid questions of Simpson, whom he addresses as “Juice,” about allegations that he had abused his then-wife.
Simpson denied abusing her on New Year’s Eve in 1988, but records released in 1994 show that she required treatment at a hospital on Jan. 1, 1989. Four months later, he entered a no-contest plea to a charge of spousal abuse and was sentenced by a municipal judge to 120 hours of community service and two years’ probation. He also was fined $200 and ordered to give $500 to a shelter for battered women.
“Given the horrible events to come, I wish I had known more, questioned more, and I fault myself for that. I still do to this day,” Firestone wrote for The Huffington Post. “The clip which appears in the documentary makes it appear that I was chummy with Simpson. It makes it appear, even two years before the murders, that I was dismissing the seriousness of the issue of domestic violence.”
Referring to his interview subject by his “Juice” nickname is indeed overly “chummy,” but Firestone, who has won seven Emmys, said plenty of people in the media and elsewhere were complicit in allowing Simpson’s image to remain untarnished. And hindsight is, of course, perfect.
“To be in any way seen as lighthearted, chummy or even mildly enabling some monstrous issue like that still haunts me 22 years later,” Firestone wrote. “The Simpson interview is one of the most tragic examples of how the media (including me) and the public trusted and accommodated their heroes, believing their mythology and perpetuating their deification.”
Police records, 911 audio tapes, photos Nicole Brown Simpson took of her injuries and a police interview on the documentary graphically tell the story of how, when police arrived during the 1988 incident, she ran from the bushes yelling, “He’s going to kill me! He’s going to kill me!” She told officers that there had been eight other calls about abuse and that Simpson had complained about the frequency of the calls.
Simpson mentioned the incident in the famous letter read by Robert Kardashian just before his 1994 arrest on the double-murder charges. “I took the heat New Year’s 1989 because that’s what I was supposed to do. I did not plead no contest for any other reason but to protect our privacy, and was advised it would end the press hype.” He went on to say that “at times I have felt like a battered husband or boyfriend, but I loved her.”
In an interview with Doug Gottlieb, Firestone says he wishes that he’d been offered the chance to put the interview “into perspective” because it was being judged this week “in retrospect … in hindsight.” Firestone points out that he asked the question, Simpson denied it and he could go no further with it absent evidence. He does admit, however, that he comes off poorly in addressing Simpson by his nickname.
“The thing that does make me squirm is the appearance of chumminess with this guy, but yet again this is two years before the charges of murder. … This is more than two years before,” Firestone said. “So I’m getting texts [from] all over the country, getting tweeted or whatever you want to call it, Googled, saying ‘How dare you, you scumball. You’re slime. ‘You enabled this murderer.’ It’s unbelievable to me that people cannot see the context of this.
“Are there things about this interview that make me not so proud? Sure. But remember where I was and where the country was and where the world was with someone like O.J. Simpson. … Everyone called him Juice, and everybody thought he was America’s hero.”