by Paul Peck, Buffalo Sports Page
Wow. That was my first, and only reaction to a bit of Bills OTA news that you might have missed.
It got lost a bit in injury updates and Jerry Hughes’ new contract announcement.
But for long-time Bills fans, it was a shocker. For the first time since O.J. Simpson wore it, the Bills have issued a player #32.
No one has worn it since 1977, when Simpson was traded to San Francisco. But now, free agent running back Senorise Perry is sporting one of the iconic running back numbers in the NFL.
Perry has worn the number before, and has a special attachment to it. He asked for it, and after some internal discussion, he was allowed to wear it.
“It’s something we did talk about when it was brought up by [Senorise] Perry and we know it was a number that was important to him and his family, and so we felt like we would honor that request. We definitely vetted it out and talked about it,” said Bills Head Coach Sean McDermott.
Hard to Retire Numbers
It’s hard to retire numbers in the NFL. Training camp rosters of 90 players and position number restrictions make it hard to do that. The Bills have retired three: #12 for Jim Kelly, #34 for Thurman Thomas & #78 for Bruce Smith.
Andre Reed’s #83 has only been given out sporadically over the years.
But iconic numbers from the franchise’s history have always been put aside, and never usually given out again to non-star players.
Which is why I am surprised about seeing a #32 on the practice field.
Clearly, there’s reasons beyond football for the discussion of this number. Just like, time to time, there are protests that Simpson remains on the Bills Wall of Fame.
If you are of the group that wants this judged on football alone, you are probably against the move to give out #32. There is no debating Simpson’s impact on the franchise, and the NFL. He remains one of the best runners ever, and one of the most dominant players in league history. He is, and remains, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
If you aren’t in that group, and believe Simpson’s life and involvement in the murder of two people are pertinent, then you’re probably wondering why it took so long to give out #32.
It is an argument with passion on both sides, and this will only stir up that debate.
Does History Matter Anymore?
We live in such an instant world, that I sometimes wonder if history matters anymore. Especially in sports, where the most recent game/player/moment is always deemed “the greatest ever.”
We also live in a world where there has been a push to correct the wrongs of the past. You see that with the protests and removal of Civil War statues in the South.
While not quite on that level, the Simpson number situation is similar. Is it OK to honor a person who has been involved in crimes and horrible behavior? Or should what he did before that, on the football field, be the only determining factor?
Is O.J.’s legacy as a football player, one of the greatest in Bills history, be enough to keep that number retired? Is this an insult to all those Bills fans who reveled in that glorious era of team history, and appreciated how Simpson put the team and city on the national map?
I Don’t Like It
So here’s what I think. I don’t like it. It’s more about history, than it is about Simpson.
I am a fan of history, and I think it’s an important part of any sports franchise. All sports teams should honor the great players of the past, and continue to do that. The fans that were there back then appreciate it. The ones who weren’t need to know all about the great players who laid the groundwork for the present.
There is no denying that Simpson is one of the most important players in Bills history. Simpson the player, just to be clear. He is on the Wall of Fame because of that.
I don’t condone anything he’s done as O.J. Simpson the person. But to me, his athletic achievements in Buffalo stand the test of time and should continue to be celebrated.
That includes keeping his #32 on the shelf. I appreciate that Senorise Perry has an attachment to the number. But what if he was attached to #34? He would have been politely told to pick another option.
Only the teams, and the people who control such decisions like McDermott, can keep the history alive and make sure that future generations understand why.
Maybe this debate will cause a young Bills fans to wonder who wore #32, and why we’re talking about it. They should know. They should have the information to make their own decision. Just like when they go to a game at New Era Field and ask their parents about all those men are who adorn the Wall of Fame.
History is important. It should be preserved. It’s not always pretty. But that’s how we learn not to make some of those mistakes again.
I believe that there should not be a current or future player wearing #32.