Posted on June 14, 2024

Where O.J. Simpson Found Acceptance, No Questions Asked

Corina Knoll, New York Times, June 9, 2024

O.J. Simpson, even in his final years, was somewhat of a spectacle.

In his presence, heads turned and whispers swirled. There was no story about him without that white Ford Bronco, the bloody gloves, the two chilling murders.

When he settled in Las Vegas seven years ago, it seemed fitting that he would choose a city of escape and second acts. Here, he became a man about town, known for pulling up to a steakhouse in a Bentley convertible, appearing at lavish parties and posing for selfies.

His lifestyle was comfortable — and far too pleasant to those who believed he deserved to spend his remaining days in prison.

But there was one element that made him feel accepted in Las Vegas. A little-known golf crew called In the Cup.

Its 40 or so members are neither wealthy nor powerful. They play at public courses, not lush country clubs. They are military veterans, retired police officers, small business owners, airport security workers.

Most are Black. And none of them cared about Mr. Simpson’s past.

“It’s not something we talked about, not something we discussed, not something we went into. We left it alone,” said one member, Leroy Wordlaw, 72, a retired Marine master sergeant. “This is a man who came to us the way he is.”

Mr. Simpson had spent his prime years in a rich, white world that was far from his roots in the San Francisco housing projects. At the height of his fame, he lived in a Tudor-style estate in Brentwood, an affluent Los Angeles enclave, and owned an oceanfront home on the sands of Laguna Beach.

During that time, he was revered for his success on the football field and in Hollywood. But he was also criticized by some Black Americans for sequestering himself from them.

Decades later, his reputation tarnished, it would be golf, a sport steeped in whiteness and privilege, that tethered him to a group of Black friends in Las Vegas. He often described his plans with In the Cup as “hanging with the brothers.”

“He said, ‘This is just what I needed, this club,’” his friend, Trimain Dunn, 58, recalled. “People who he could relate to, no judgment.”

It was this social circle that became an unlikely pillar in the coda to Mr. Simpson’s strange trajectory until his death in April at 76.


When Mr. Simpson was acquitted of murder in 1995, a majority of Americans believed the killer had just been set free. His trial had marched out horrific details: his history of spousal abuse and the way the victims — his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald L. Goldman — had been so viciously stabbed.

His talent and management agency quickly distanced itself from him. A sign declaring “Home of the Brentwood butcher” was posted not far from his house. Neighbors made it clear that he was persona non grata.

“Where do they want me to go? To Africa? Is that what some of those people would want? Go where?” Mr. Simpson said in an interview with Black Entertainment Television in 1996.

He became even more of a pariah when, in 2007, he and a group of men broke into a Las Vegas hotel room in search of what he said were his personal mementos. He was convicted of armed robbery and kidnapping and sent to a rural prison in Nevada.

When granted parole in 2017, Mr. Simpson returned to a city that seemed uninterested in condemnation.


Mr. Simpson found his way to In the Cup in fall 2018.

He was invited by a member he had encountered at a cigar bar. After a few nudges, Mr. Simpson finally showed up to play. Then he kept coming back.

Members were star-struck in the beginning. They had grown up idolizing him as an athlete, and now he was here talking trash, laughing, trying to distract them as they teed off.


The club had formed with a handful of golfers in 2013 as a way to be officially recognized by the United States Golf Association and to play more competitively.

Still, a crowd of Black men on a fairway tended to attract scrutiny. Golf course marshals hounded them to hurry along and to quiet their voices. Once, a member seeking shade under a tree was accused of urinating. The group learned quickly which courses did not deserve their money.


Mr. Simpson had once experienced golf through the prism of luxury and elitism.

In 1992, he became the first Black member of the exclusive Arcola Country Club in Paramus, N.J. His membership was sponsored by Frank Olson, a top executive of Hertz, the car rental company that featured him in commercials.

At the time, he was also a member of Riviera Country Club, a favorite of Hollywood A-listers in Los Angeles that comes with a six-figure initiation fee. And he was a frequent celebrity guest at pro-ams and charity tournaments around the country.


The murder trial soon transfixed the world, and opinions were divided by race. It came after the Los Angeles police officers who beat Rodney King, a Black motorist, were acquitted. The jury decision in Mr. Simpson’s favor was seen as a rare moment of justice for many Black Americans in an unfair nation.


More than two decades later, Mr. Simpson would find himself ensconced in a golf group where he needed no sponsor, no clout, no explanation.

For members of In the Cup, it was not an issue whether Mr. Simpson “did it.” He was found not guilty. He had also ultimately served time in prison. That was enough.

“Everybody’s got a past,” said Rontu Elam, 45, a rap artist who joined four years ago. “I don’t think it’s something that’s really looked at around here. And it’s never been an issue with me or anybody else.” Mr. Elam himself was previously accused of murder and sex trafficking in two different Las Vegas cases. Both fell apart when prosecutors could not get witnesses to testify, according to The Las Vegas Review-Journal, and the charges were dismissed.