Magazine article Newsweek

Giving O.J. a Platform: Oxford's Debaters Issue a Controversial Invitation

Magazine article Newsweek

Giving O.J. a Platform: Oxford's Debaters Issue a Controversial Invitation

Article excerpt

OXFORD UNIVERSITY'S 173-YEAR-OLD debating society, the Oxford Union, takes pride in searching the globe for important speakers. Mother Teresa and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have obliged. So have Jimmy Carter, King Hussein and the Dalai Lama. This term's lineup: Yasir Arafat, Irish Prime Minister John Bruton--and O.J. Simpson.

Richard Nixon promoted his own image makeover by addressing the Oxford Union in 1978. Current Union president Paul Kenward, a 22-year-old modern-history student, cited the Nixon precedent in announcing that Simpson was scheduled to speak next week. He said he was "honored" to invite O.J., which he did at the suggestion of the ex-athlete's London PR man. "The only debate about this took place in my own head," said Kenward.

Now the argument is spreading fast. Simpson was little known in Britain before his "trial of the century" and controversial acquittal. Many of Kenward's elders, and some of his contemporaries, are appalled by what they see as a pointless and tasteless invitation. "If you wanted an analysis of the racial dynamics of our time, O.J.'s not the guy you would ask," complains Byron Shafer, professor of American government at Oxford's Nuffield College. "So what are we recognizing? This is a severe misuse of celebrity." The differences between Simpson and Nixon, from their alleged crimes to their place in history, are too obvious to detail. Here's one that's subtler. It was at Oxford that Nixon called Watergate "a blunder" for which he took responsibility.

If the past is any guide, O.J.'s tone will be more self-serving than confessional. …

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