The Book That Told On Its Author

On April 10, 2024, famed NFL running back, actor, and convicted felon O.J. Simpson died. He wasn’t in prison when he passed on, which most believe was a miscarriage of justice. In June 1994, Simpson almost certainly murdered his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman, and the prosecution had plenty of evidence to prove that point. But unfortunately, the most damning proof was DNA evidence — something that was new to most of the Americans watching, and more importantly, to the jurors that decided Simpson’s fate. They found him not guilty, even though almost any jury would, by modern standards, have gone the other direction without a moment’s pause.

Simpson’s culpability for the killings of Brown and Goldman, though, didn’t end with that verdict. And as a result, O.J. Simpson ended up authoring the book whose cover is seen below — a book which, at first glance, appears to be a confession.

The title of the book appears to be “I Did It” — which is weird because most people wouldn’t write a book confessing to a double murder. But if you look carefully, that’s not quite what’s happening here. The book’s actual title is “If I Did It,” and hidden in the word “I” is the small word “If.” And if that’s hard to see, well, that’s the point.

To be clear, O.J. Simpson didn’t intend to write a book explicitly confessing to the murders. Most likely, he was hoping to cash in on his notoriety. But that backfired.

In November 2006, ReganBooks, an imprint of book publisher HarperCollins, announced that they were publishing a book by O.J. outlining — hypothetically — how he could have murdered Brown and Goldman. If that sounds like a colossally bad idea, you’re not alone in thinking that. As news of the book spread, the outcry against it got louder and louder. Simpson, who was short on cash at the time, was paid $600,000 to write the book (with a ghostwriter named Pablo Fenjves) and appear for an interview about the book on Fox. (Both Fox and HarperCollins were subsidiaries of News Corp. at the time.) That never came to pass, though, and the book — at least, as originally concocted — never hit bookstores. Before the month was out, New Corp. announced that the TV interview wouldn’t air and the estimated 400,000 copies of the book already printed would be recycled into pulp.

The story could have ended there, but the parents of Ron Goldman had other ideas. In 1997, they and Brown’s family successfully sued Simpson for his role in the wrongful death of their loved ones, and a jury awarded the families $33.5 million in damages. Simpson filed for bankruptcy shortly thereafter, and the Goldman family went hunting for assets they could take to cover the judgment. In July 2007, they gained control of the rights to “If I Did It” — but they didn’t want to publish the book under that title. Simpson’s original book is included untouched, but the Goldman family made some additions. They added the tagline “Confessions of the Killer” and creatively hid the word “If,” making it look like Simpson’s book was a non-hypothetical confession. They also added a chapter outlining the case against O.J. titled “He Did It.”

Their goal wasn’t to cash in on O.J.’s infamy or on the tragic death of his victims. Fred Goldman, Ron’s father, told the Guardian “We’re publishing it to turn his words against him, to show to anybody who’s sitting on the fence about this case that he was responsible for the murder of Ron and Nicole.” And the economics of the gambit underscored this. As the Guardian explained, the first 10% of the book’s sale went toward reducing O.J.’s bankruptcy debts (some of which were owed to the Goldmans), but most of the proceeds went to charity, “including the Nicole Brown Charitable Foundation, which aims to educate people about the dangers of domestic violence and to help organizations that shelter families in crisis, and the Ron Goldman Foundation for Justice, which was set up to help victims of crime.”

The decision to publish the book seems to have the impact the Goldmans were after, too. The book sold more than 300,000 copies shortly after publication (and interest piqued again after Simpson’s death last week). If you read the reviews on Amazon or on Goodreads, you’ll see a consensus has developed: Simpson’s book is a rambling mess that is light on readability and entertainment value, but convincingly makes the case that he committed the double murder. And the creatively laid-out cover didn’t hurt, either.

Bonus fact: On June 17, 1994 — five days after the murders — O.J. Simpson was supposed to turn himself in to authorities, but famously, led police on a hours-long slow-speed chase on Los Angeles’ highways. For hours, people across the country if not the world watched their televisions as Simpsons (driven by friend Al Cowlings) did everything but escape in a white Ford Bronco SUV.

Two years later, Ford discontinued the Bronco (coincidentally) and the car line seemed to be destined for the dustbin of history. But in 2021, Ford decided to reintroduce the Bronco. At first, they announced that the new car would make its debut on July 9 of that year — but there was a problem: July 9th is O.J. Simpson’s birthday. As the Detroit News reported, the company moved the date back four days after discovering the accidental tie-in, stating “The previous targeted date of July 9 unintentionally coincided with O.J. Simpson’s birthday. We wanted to be sensitive and respectful of this concern.”

From the Archives: D-N-Nay: When DNA evidence is trusted, but worthless.