The most interesting thing that came out of O.J. Simpson's latest - and perhaps last - trial wasn't that he was so arrogant he thought he could barge into a hotel room with men holding guns and walk away without anyone noticing. After years of following Simpson in action, that was almost expected.

It wasn't that Simpson seemed to live in a world far removed from the one you and I live in. And it wasn't that he may be spending the rest of his life in a world he never thought he would have to live in.

No, it was the sight of a courtroom that was barely half-filled on any given day of the trial. It was that the television satellite trucks pulled up stakes early and most media decided not to come at all.

As startling as it might seem, there weren't a lot of people who really seemed to care.

Forty years after he dominated the sports pages and 13 years after he dominated the front pages, O.J. no longer mattered. Not in the way he used to matter, at least, in the days he ran the football at USC and again when he achieved notoriety of another sort.

A case could be made that after all these years most people were just sick of anything that had to do with O.J. But I'd like to think that maybe we're all just finally growing weary of the whole athlete in trouble thing.

We've sure had enough to pick from. On Friday alone, there was a veritable smorgasbord for anyone who still cares.

The day started with Michael Vick listening in from prison on a conference call where his attorneys went before a federal bankruptcy judge to ask for a mediator to work out a deal with creditors who have staked claim to $18 million of what remains of the disgraced former quarterback's fortune.

A few hours later in Los Angeles, former star running back Lawrence Phillips stood before a judge and was sentenced to 10 years in prison for driving his car onto a field and injuring three teenagers after becoming upset at losing a pickup football game to the youths. It was the second strike for Phillips under California's "three strikes" law, the first being a 2000 guilty plea to hitting a woman he had been dating during a confrontation at the Beverly Hills Hotel, but hardly the second time he had been in trouble since his days at Nebraska.

And then there was O.J., who capped the day by strolling into a Las Vegas courtroom a free man and leaving it in handcuffs after being convicted on every count that an aggressive district attorney filed against him for robbing several men in a hotel room last year of sports memorabilia he felt belonged to him.

The prevailing wisdom, of course, is that Simpson was convicted because of something that happened 14 years ago, though jurors say otherwise. His attorneys vow to appeal, but in the meantime he'll sit in jail while pondering the very real possibility that he'll spend the rest of his life in prison.

Simpson will long be the poster child for all jocks who have gone bad, the titular leader of a fraternity of men - and an occasional woman - who become so caught up with their celebrity status that they think they can do no wrong. Watching his reaction as the guilty verdicts were announced you got the feeling he still hadn't learned, even though he's now 61 and long removed from his days at USC and in the NFL.

Simpson has plenty of company, as evidenced by last week's legal proceedings. If you missed them, don't worry, because next week will invariably bring more.

Some are just trying to get away with something. Marion Jones and a dozen baseball players come to mind and, if the government is to be believed, so does two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves.

Others are just trying to have fun or need anger management in the worst way. Include Tank Johnson and his Dallas Cowboys teammate Adam "Pacman" Jones on that list, along with half the roster of the 2006-07 Cincinnati Bengals.

And there are a few like Rae Carruth who just have hate in their hearts. Carruth was catching passes for the Carolina Panthers when he put a hit out on his girlfriend, who was shot to death when she was eight months' pregnant with his child.

Carruth now resides in a North Carolina prison, where he was making 40 cents a day as a janitor when last heard of. Simpson's cell of choice will be in Nevada, right next to the state that once tried to put him away.

Like too many others, they're a stark reminder of what a fine line it can be between being a celebrated athlete and being just another number in prison.

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at


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