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Monday, July 2, 2012
What's in a name? Ask K.C.'s OJ Simpson

By Matt Lindner
Special to ESPN.com

OJ Simpson (Kansas City Command)
OJ Simpson is in his first season with the Kansas City Command of the Arena Football League.
OJ Simpson will never forget where he was the day of the infamous white Bronco chase.

That’s because when Orenthal James Simpson was trying to evade police in Orange County, Calif. on June 17, 1994, OJ Keith Simpson was celebrating his 11th birthday with his mom in Missouri.

“We were just having a little bit of fun, and my mom was [saying] there’s this big car chase,” he said. “I’m young and just having fun, I’m not really thinking about what was coming with this whole thing.”

OJ Simpson is not only a free man these days; he’s a professional football player who prides himself on his community involvement.

That other O.J. Simpson is still behind bars in a Nevada state prison, but the man who was named for him wears the Nos. 3 and 2 on the front of his jersey for the Arena Football League’s Kansas City Command. Only the numbers are reversed.

“My father was a big USC fan back in the day,” the younger Simpson explained about the name. “I want to turn his namesake around by wearing 23 instead of 32.”

While Orenthal James Simpson starred as a running back for the USC Trojans and Buffalo Bills, OJ Keith Simpson is only now starting to make a name for himself as a wide receiver/defensive back in his first season with the Command.

As you can imagine, being a pro football player named OJ Simpson has ensured that he gets significantly more attention from the opposing fans than his teammates, something he says he doesn’t mind.

“When I went to Spokane [to face the Shock] for my first game of the season, their fans are outrageous and of course they were making all the O.J. Simpson jokes, the glove jokes, everything,” he said. “I like it only because it adds fuel to the fire. I believe I scored my first touchdown that game, and after that I didn’t hear nothing else.”

The younger Simpson also has a second job as an alcohol and drug counselor and offers guidance to troubled youth as a mentor.

Future generations will know O.J. Simpson as the man who was controversially found not guilty on charges he murdered his wife and her friend, not as the record-breaking football hero after whom a huge fan was inspired to name his son.

“[The kids I work with] say, 'You’re named after that murderer,' but then I give them a history so they can understand it,” OJ Keith Simpson said.

There’s more to OJ Keith Simpson than being a professional football player, though. There’s also the matter of doing the most basic things in life without being hassled.

“When I call to make a doctor’s appointment, anything of the sort, they think it’s a joke,” he said. “I have to show my ID because they don’t believe it. I got flagged one time at the airport flying out of Denver. They said, ‘We thought you were the real O.J., so we flagged you.’ They’re looking for the other O.J. to come around the corner, and nope, it was just me.”

OJ Keith Simpson is actually quite a bit smaller than the other O.J. Listed at 5-foot-9 and 195 pounds, he's four inches shorter and about 20 pounds lighter.
Until the car chase on his 11th birthday, being OJ Simpson was a pretty cool thing.

“I used to have this O.J. Simpson book where I’d read it all the time before practice,” he said. “To me, I didn’t think he was a bad guy. Plus, his movies, with 'Naked Gun,' that was a funny thing.”

And even now he swears it’s not all bad.

For years, he said, people have tried calling him by his middle name because of the stigma attached to his first. Try calling him Keith, though, and he’ll be the first person to correct you.

“People say, 'I’m gonna call you Keith,' and I let them know, ‘Call me OJ, that’s my name,’” he said. “It’s the name my mother gave to me and it’s the name I want to be called.”