O.J. Simpson has typically gone unmentioned during NFL broadcasts since the former Buffalo Bills star was accused of a double murder in 1994, that is, until ESPN’s Jason Witten tried to use the recent parolee in a clumsy comparison on Monday night.
When talking about New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley, Witten first referenced Simpson, who was acquitted of murder charges in 1995, only to be found responsible for the death of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman in a civil trial the following year.
‘Think of all the great running backs – and I would certainly put Barkley in there – that never got to a Super Bowl: O.J. Simpson, Eric Dickerson, LaDainian Tomlinson,’ Witten said. ‘They never got an opportunity.’
ESPN’s Jason Witten (left) took heat on Monday for mentioning O.J. Simpson in a discussion with play-by-play announcer Joe Tessitore (right) during the Giants-49ers game in Santa Clara
Through no fault of his own, Saquon Barkley (right) drew a comparison to O.J. Simpson on Monday, thanks to ESPN’s Monday Night Football commentator Jason Witten
Although Simpson became the first NFL running back to eclipse 2,000 yards in a single season (his yardage record was later broken by Dickerson with the Los Angeles Rams) he never made it to a Super Bowl with either the Bills or the San Francisco 49ers.
Witten, a former Dallas Cowboys tight end, did not belabor his point. Still, the very mention of Simpson – who recently served nine years in a Nevada prison for armed robbery – was enough to ignite a chorus of criticism on social media.
Wrote one Twitter user: ‘Out of all the running backs Jason Witten could [have] compared Saquon Barkley to, the first name out of his mouth was OJ Simpson.’
The Dirty Sports Podcast’s Twitter account had a more sarcastic reaction: ‘OJ Simpson! Finally someone is giving him the much needed respect. Thank you Jason Witten.’
Another Twitter user joked, ‘Jason Witten is the type of guy to say, “you too” after a waiter tells him to enjoy his meal.’
But that wasn’t the only fodder for Witten critics on Monday night.
When ESPN’s play-by-play announcer Joe Tessitore explained that 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens had attended Giants quarterback Eli Manning’s passing camp in 2016, Witten gave a less-than-poetic response: ‘Some dreams never come true, but if you keep dreaming, you never know.’
As Robert Littal of Black Sports Online wrote, ‘Witten really has no idea what he’s saying when he starts a sentence.’
The 2018 season has not been an easy one for ESPN’s new Monday Night Football crew, which consists of Witten, Tessitore and sideline reporter Anthony ‘Booger’ McFarland, a former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle.
Fans previously complained that the mobile viewing chair used by McFarland along NFL sidelines was blocking their view of the field during games.
A former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle, McFarland got the nickname ‘Booger’ from his mother when he was a child
The BoogMobile, as it’s known, is a chair attached to a vehicle that drives up and down the sideline during Monday Night Football games and gives McFarland a bird’s-eye view of the field. Before the season, ESPN anticipated that McFarland would block fans’ views, so the network attached a television monitor to the back of the chair, to give everyone an idea of what they were missing.
The problem was that the monitor showed the game on a slight delay, so fans that paid premium prices for seats in the lower bowl were understandably upset by the situation.
During a recent game between the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills, however, that monitor was replaced with transparent plexiglass.
A Rochester-based radio host named ‘Duffy’ announced the change on Twitter: ‘The #ESPN BoogerMobile has switched from giant tv background to clear glass background.#GoBills’
License Plate Guy – a well-known New York Giants fan named Joseph Ruback who wears a chain of personalized license plates around his neck during games – attacked ESPN on Twitter a week earlier.
‘Can’t say I didn’t have a good view of that freaking shot right there,’ Ruback tweeted during the Giants’ loss to the Atlanta Falcons on October 22. ‘Ridiculous. Booger, get out of the freaking way!’
ESPN thought it was solving a problem by attaching the monitor to the back of McFarland’s ‘BoogMobile,’ but the game was shown on a tape delay, so fans were less than thrilled
License Plate Guy – a well-known New York Giants fan named Joseph Ruback who wears a chain of personalized license plates around his neck during games – attacked ESPN for obstructing his view with the BoogMobile in Atlanta on October 22 (right)
The BoogMobile also obstructed views in Chicago during a September 2 game against Seattle