The trial of the century had a surprise ending that few saw coming, apparently not even O.J. Simpson himself.

Just three months ago, the former NFL player posted a video on social media laughing about rumors that he was in hospice care. The man who had denied for nearly 30 years that he was involved in the death of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman, seemed to be in denial to the end, even about his own health.

Or maybe he just didn’t want to witness the nation’s glee.

Not surprisingly, social media erupted with celebratory memes on Thursday, many imagining Simpson being turned away from heaven or welcomed by demons in hell.

Some went so far as to say that God had meted out justice that jurors in his murder trial in Los Angeles failed to do. And that’s an understandable take, given that a majority of Americans — both Black and white — believe Simpson committed the murders. For them, the civil judgment against Simpson, and the nine years he spent in prison for crimes unconnected to the murders, was not nearly adequate recompense for the violence done to the victims that terrible night in Brentwood.

There was a time when much of America thought that we would be the ones to punish Simpson — not vigilante style, but by ensuring that he was a pariah deprived of the spotlight and adulation to which he had grown accustomed throughout his football career. But that was before social media gave everyone a platform, even those believed to have committed a double murder.

Simpson joined what was then known as Twitter in June 2019, posting for the first time the day after the 25th anniversary of the murders. Even setting aside the question of Simpson’s guilt or innocence, the timing was in incredibly poor taste.

So, too, was the attention paid to him in subsequent years, allowing him to preen in the light of celebrity despite everything that had happened. At the time of his death, Simpson had more than 871,000 followers on X.

No network would hire him as an NFL analyst, but he could post his own commentary. Although he was often derided in the comments, his musings frequently made headlines, and all the attention seemed to allow him to dwell in the same sort of self-deception that he displayed in 1995 when he told The New York Times, “I don’t believe most of America believes I did it.”

O.J. Simpson is riffing on Zach Wilson and the Jets. Should America be paying attention?
O.J. Simpson dies at 76

There was always something icky about Simpson’s presence on social media; it seemed like the sort of taunting that the NFL doesn’t allow on the field, especially when he was posting videos of himself smiling poolside or on the golf course. In these videos, he was taunting not only the Goldman and Brown families, but everyone who believed he was guilty. “Living well is the best revenge,” he seemed to be saying.

With Simpson’s death from cancer at age 76, he is now the subject of taunting in the celebratory memes and digs. But his death is nothing to celebrate — in part because there are ethical questions surrounding whether anybody’s death is, whether it’s Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden, and in part because his death accomplishes nothing but getting him off social media.

There will be no accounting, no confession, no lessons to draw from any of this unless an autopsy, if conducted, reveals CTE. As the attorney for Goldman’s father said of Simpson on Thursday, “He died without penance.”

Simpson’s family, which presumably includes Nicole’s children, has asked for “privacy and grace,” which seems a reasonable request, if unlikely to be granted. Over time, the Trial of the Century evolved into The O.J. Simpson Show, which will be in reruns for a few weeks before it is finally, mercifully, cancelled — and not soon enough. The whole story was not just true crime, but an American tragedy. As the curtain falls, silence, not jubilation, is the appropriate response.