The 17th of June in 1994 was a different world from today. It was the beginning of the 24-hour news reel. A time when paparazzi was still an unfamiliar word for most, and celebrity shine began to tarnish. It was the start of Court TV. Pundits with opinions, but no real answers, began to show up with our morning coffee. The documentary June 17th 1994 is a small window into what life was like for many in 1994 at the start of the O.J. Simpson trial. This was part of the 30 for 30 series created by ESPN.
June 17th was supposed to be a day dominated by sports. From the NBA Finals to the U.S .Open, to the World Cup, the day was already going to be unique in the sports world. What no one anticipated was for O.J. Simpson to dominate the news. At least the way he did. On this day, the news and sports became intertwined making it one of the most historical days in sports.
Arnold Palmer – one of the greatest players in professional golf history was set to play his last U.S. Open that day. Palmer, who is still the 5th all-time winner of the PGA tour, nicknamed “The Kin,g” was emotional when he walked away from playing his last hole.
After a 54-year drought, the N.Y. Rangers won the Stanley Cup finals in game 7 that day.
That day, game 5 of the NBA Finals with the N.Y. Knicks vs. Houston Rockets (nicknamed “the forgotten finals”) began. Both teams were tied at two.
The first (and only) FIFA World Cup Opening Ceremony in the U.S. hosted by Oprah Winfrey, and where President Bill Clinton spoke, also occurred on June 17th.
And Ken Griffey Jr. hit his 30th home run, tying Babe Ruth’s record.
All of these sports events happened on one day.
Was anyone watching?
Enter O.J. Simpson. A man who was only familiar with winning: winner of the Heisman Trophy; inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1985; an actor of film, TV, and commercials. One of our most worshiped sports figures in history was now a suspect in the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman. O.J. was given the opportunity to turn himself in the morning of June 17th, but instead led the police in the now infamous white Bronco chase down the Los Angeles freeway. These events began in the morning and ended late into the evening.
There was no other event that was watched more than the chase. It had the highest TV coverage ever – with over 95 million views. News and sports collided and it changed the way we view television to this day. Many people can recall exactly where they were when the chase happened, because it felt like the world had stopped in time.
Immediate news coverage is now common today with 24-hour news channels like CNN and MSNBC. The documentary does an impressive job illustrating how the media was affected by the need for TV coverage of this event. It also accomplishes showing the parallels of the sporting events vs. the events of the white Bronco chase.