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TheStreet Open House

How O.J. Simpson Created a Wider World of Sports

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- On June 17, 1994, sports coverage followed O.J. Simpson, Al Cowlings and a white Ford Bronco through the freeways of Southern California and never returned.

On a day with no shortage of sports to cover -- Arnold Palmer played his final round of professional golf, the World Cup kicked off in Chicago, the New York Rangers held a parade to celebrate their Stanley Cup win and the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets were set for Game 5 of the NBA Finals -- the biggest sports story of them all involved a retired athlete accused of murdering his ex-wife and her boyfriend. It involved a man who hadn't played a down of football in 15 years fleeing the police and threatening to commit suicide.

It drew sports coverage out of the sport itself and into the realm of both news and entertainment. ESPN argued as much in its 30 For 30 documentary about the day, titled June 17, 1994. Vanity Fair recently took it a step further by crediting the chase and ensuing criminal trial with the rise of reality television. That's not a tough leap to make when the timeline starts with Simpson friend and lawyer Robert Kardashian reading Simpson's statement to the press just before the chase and ends with Kardashian's daughter and reality television star Kim Kardashian marrying Kanye West this past Memorial Day weekend.

More importantly, it wiped away the thin line that divided "real" sports coverage and journalism from "tabloid" stories. Off-field incidents once confined to books like Jim Bouton's Ball Four or to front-page stories in the New York Post about Yankees manager Billy Martin brawling with marshmallow salesmen in hotels became part of the sports purview. Blogs like Fire Joe Morgan, Kissing Suzy Kolber, Bleacher Report, Awful Announcing, SB Nation and, most notably, Deadspin dispensed with formality and acknowledged that the lives that coaches, players, owners and administrators were living were as newsworthy as the games they played. The publications and journalists that covered those sports were opened up to scrutiny as well, and it took the entrenched sports establishment a while to adjust to that new reality.

The old liners are still having a tough time with it. ABC managed to offend auto racing fans nearly unanimously by going to a split screen at the end of the race that gave drivers' girlfriends and cloud wallpaper more than 85% of the screen space -- confining the race footage itself to a tiny box. A day later, ABC's Disney  (DIS) sports channel sibling ESPN alluded to tennis star Caroline Wozniacki's sudden split from fiance and golfer Rory McIlroy after Wozniacki's ouster from the French Open. The first words of their headline? "Break(up) point." We'll note that McIlroy didn't get the same treatment when he won the BMW PGA Championship a few days before.

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