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O.J., `This Lost Person'

THE media saga of O.J. Simpson is bound to continue well past the arraignment held June 20. Overnight we have had the spectacle of a celebrity superstar becoming a celebrity accused of murder. There hasn't been anything quite like this case - or the ``real time'' broadcast drama of Mr. Simpson's police standoff, which had the quality of a tabloid cop show - in US public life.

Discussions on the aggressive media coverage and public fascination, the problem of spousal abuse, and the legal strategy Simpson's lawyers will take, are ongoing. Some coverage is excessive, as with one major newspaper that printed on Page 1 a detailed graphic of Simpson's 7-by-9-foot cell.

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Simpson was someone widely admired, who left the projects in San Francisco and whom we came to know as a familiar face in our living rooms on Sunday afternoons. He was someone we cheered for avidly when he was a player - whose rare combination of power, grace, and speed enabled him to break through the line and defy tacklers in the open field.

In speaking of the possibility that he might not get a conviction, the LA county district attorney said that Simpson's ``persona of a hero'' will make it difficult and that ``our job will be to fight through that popular perception and convince a jury that there is really a much different persona.''

Yet while that may be a necessary and correct legal strategy, O.J. Simpson isn't just an image or persona.

He was liked and respected by others for real reasons. Teammates, bellhops, fans, friends, and media colleagues all held him in high regard. He had time for the average person. He didn't have to go into the University of Southern California locker room after the football games he regularly attended. Most superstars wouldn't. Even now we see a father pleading to keep his children protected. At the minimum, he doesn't fit the pattern of a hardened criminal.

Two brutal murders have been committed; Simpson has yet to stand trial. Moreover, the case occurs in a context of his plea of no-contest on spouse-abuse charges. As this case clearly shows, spousal abuse cannot continue to be given low priority as a condition to be rectified. Our hearts go out to the aggrieved families of the innocent victims.

Still, a way must be found between mindless celebrity sentimentality and the perverse jeering quality one now hears where delight is taken in the fall of a hero, and he becomes the butt of sick jokes.

In his note to friends, Simpson may have made one of the most poignant comments: ``... please think of the real O.J., and not this lost person.'' A friend may have committed a terrible crime and must stand trial. But we ought to remember the real O.J. even as the ``lost person'' goes to court.

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