The SJI Class of 1994 in Dana Point, California.
June 24, 2024

‘O.J. Class’ recalls valuable experience from visit to Brentwood

Tori Garcia and Perla Paredes Hernandez

Reporters Rachel Bachman and Doug Christopher Garrett walked through Rockingham Drive in Brentwood, Calif., in June 1994. Bachman was taken aback by what she noticed on the walkway in front of O.J. Simpson’s house. There was a bloodstain. It was dried and appeared to have been previously cleaned up, but the blood was still prevalently noticeable in the concrete crevices. 

At that moment, the crime displayed in media headlines became a reality for Bachman. 

“That was sort of a stark reminder that this is not just a media circus,” Bachman said. “Two people died very violent deaths here.”

These two student journalists were chosen to write a scene story about one of the most important stories at the time.

Growing up, Bachman did not know she wanted to pursue sports journalism. While at the University of Michigan, sports writing evolved out of her interest. Garrett, however, was a campus news and commentary writer at Hampton University. 

Bachman and Garrett traveled to Kansas during the summer preceding their senior year. They were members of the Sports Journalism Institute’s second class.

On the night of June 17, 1994, Bachman, Garrett, and their SJI classmates gathered in a dorm lounge to watch Game 5 of the NBA Finals. The Houston Rockets were playing the New York Knicks, and the class was assigned to write a game story. However, the broadcast was quickly interrupted by breaking news. 

In southern California, a white Ford Bronco, its California plate reading 3DHY503, cruised along the freeways. At the wheel was former football player Al Cowlings. In the backseat sat Simpson, the football legend known as "The Juice." The former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL star allegedly held a gun to his own head.

They led police on a 60-mile chase along several freeways.

Five days earlier, Simpson’s former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman, were murdered. 

When Simpson quickly became the suspect in the murders, Garrett’s instincts as a news reporter kicked in, urging the class to switch channels to watch the chase. Eventually, a split screen emerged featuring both the basketball game and the Bronco chase.  

The story unfolded right in front of the eyes of the SJI class.

“It was pretty stunning,” Bachman said. “At the time, most of us and the rest of America just knew O.J. Simpson as this famous former athlete who had done a lot of commercials and things like that. So for him to be implicated in this double homicide was unbelievable.”

The SJI reporters finished their game-story assignment, capturing the Knicks’ 91-84 victory over the Rockets.

Shortly after boot camp in Kansas, Bachman and Garrett traveled to Dana Point, California, for the Associated Press Sports Editors convention, where they began writing stories for the SJI newspaper.

Bachman’s and Garrett's assignment was to capture the mood of Simpson’s neighborhood. An AP photographer accompanied them to the Brentwood area. They first went to Nicole’s condo, a short drive from Simpson’s house.

Garrett was set to use the best words he could to complete his story. To Garrett's surprise, conversations with locals revealed a complex mix of emotions.   

“Everybody that I spoke with was convinced that (O.J.)  had been responsible for the deaths of his ex-wife and her companion,” Garrett said. “But they all expressed such sorrow about him as a sports figure. That seemed to weigh on them more than their horror of the crimes that had been committed.”  

The neighborhood was dense and visibly looked like any other upscale area, but Simpson’s house was a spectacle and a hotspot for people passing through.

“There were people kind of just milling around when we were there,” Bachman said. “I don’t remember it being a huge crowd, but cars would slow down, and people would look out the window, or they would stop and get out.”

With their notes in hand, Bachman and Garrett retreated to the SJI newsroom in a hotel that hosted the APSE summer convention.  

“(Sports) wasn't my background,” Garrett said. “I knew that my approach might be a little different (for my story). I was really thankful for the opportunity to do something that was closer to home for me.”

Simpson died April 10 at age 76, but that day in Brentwood and the opportunity to join SJI ultimately helped both Bachman and Garrett with their future career endeavors, but in different ways. 

Today, Garrett is a senior communications adviser for the US Department of Health and Human Services, which connects people who have mental health or substance disorders with treatment throughout the country.

“One of the greatest things about the program was it changed the way I viewed sports journalism, even though I didn't go into it as a career,” Garrett said. “The O.J. case was also a great example of how sports would broaden over the years... sports touch all sorts of different aspects of life. The program helped make that clear to me.”  

Bachman ended up following her passion in sportswriting and is now a senior sports reporter at The Wall Street Journal. However, the lessons she learned and the experience she gained covering the traumatic event proved most valuable in her journey.

“Sports don’t stop when the games end, " Bachman said. “The people in them and the issues that run through them go throughout all of our lives. That’s sort of both a challenge and responsibility for journalists. It’s also exciting.”

Tori Garcia will intern at the Dallas Morning News and Perla Paredes Hernandez will intern at the Houston Chronicle this summer.

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