The complicated love affair between USC and O.J. Simpson

Last month, a new residential college was named after OJ’s getaway driver

With eyes glued to the television, the nation tuned in to witness O.J. Simpson’s parole hearing two weeks ago. And it didn’t take long for USC, Simpson’s alma mater, to be put in the spotlight, as they were confronted about their relationship with the accused murderer and convicted kidnapper.

On USC’s campus, Simpson’s name is revered for his achievements on the football field and remains unsullied by his possible connection to the murder of his ex-wife or his conviction for robbery.

Simpson’s 1968 Heisman Trophy is proudly displayed in Heritage Hall, and his No. 32 jersey hangs triumphant across the seats near the end zone in the Coliseum.

He was even welcomed by former coach Pete Carroll before the 2003 Orange Bowl. Despite the slew of criticism he received, Carroll told reporters, “it’s good to have him here.”

While current coach Clay Helton said last week that Simpson would not be invited to campus events, USC seems to be an island where Simpson’s legacy starts and ends with his career as a Trojan, and is just about the only place where his entanglement with the law is almost totally ignored.

Moreover, last month, USC announced that one of the residential colleges in the new Village will be named after alumnus Al Cowlings. “AC” Cowlings was behind the wheel of the Ford Bronco in the infamous police chase. Cowlings was later charged with a felony for aiding a the then-fugitive Simpson, but a lack of evidence eventually led to those charges being dropped.

In a statement, USC President Max Nikias said, “This remarkably generous gift enhances USC’s world-class living and learning environment and will carry Mr. Cowlings’ name, in tribute to his tremendous passion for his alma mater and for our students.”

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Since his time as a Trojan, Simpson has become a convicted felon, yet USC continues to celebrate him and his past accolades.

“USC recognizes O.J.’s accomplishments as a football player,’’ said a university spokesperson. “What happened after USC is beyond our scope.’’

But should it be? As the LA Times points out, “the Heisman Trophy and the jersey cover only two years of a narrative that has long since been transformed into a saga of murder and robbery and madness.”

So later this month, as USC students move their boxes into Cowlings Hall, I’m sure they won’t be thinking of Cowlings’ football stats, but rather his legendary quote he shouted through a cell phone at police during the Simpson chase, “My name is AC! You know who I am, goddammit!’’

Spoken like a true Trojan.

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