Give Reggie Bush grief for breaking the rules. Give him guilt for breaking the USC football program. Give him every bit of blame for the decade-thick darkness that buried the Trojans.
But give him back his Heisman.
It’s time. It’s fair. It’s owed.
When Bush gave up his 2005 Heisman Trophy as it was being yanked from him in 2010, it was the right thing to do.
He had smashed through all the NCAA improper benefits rules like he was breaking tackles against Fresno State. His family allegedly accepted rent-free housing from an agent. He allegedly accepted $300,000 from two sports marketers.
It was stupid stuff, it was selfish stuff, and it landed the Trojans on an obscene probation that cost them their identity for a decade. They were stripped of wins, stripped of scholarships, stripped of their soul, and it showed.
The Trojans won just one major bowl game in the next 10 years while cycling through awkward coaching changes and mediocre win totals and general chaos.
Reggie Bush did that. Reggie Bush paid a price for that. But times have changed, wounds have healed, rules are different, and the fact that arguably the best running back in college football history doesn’t have his Heisman is just silly.
Bush and his lawyers made that point Wednesday in a Coliseum news conference announcing their intent to file a defamation suit against the NCAA.
The lawsuit is based on the NCAA’s comments two years ago that Bush was involved in a “pay-for-play arrangement,” which means he wouldn’t have played for USC if he had not received those benefits.
His lawyers claim that is untrue and that it “substantially and irreparably damaged his reputation.”
While it indeed seem untrue, it hardly damaged his reputation, as he followed his 11-year, $63-million NFL career with a spot on a nationally televised football show.
Bush survived just fine. The lawsuit isn’t about damages. It’s about records. Bush wants to threaten the toothless NCAA enough that it will restore Bush’s records, thus allowing the folks at the Heisman Trophy Trust to finally return his award.
“How many more years before the NCAA finally admits they’re on the wrong side of history, they’re on the wrong side of fairness and they’re on the wrong side of justice?” said attorney Ben Crump at the news conference. “How long? How long?”
It only makes sense. By keeping Bush’s Heisman — the only trophy ever returned — the Heisman Trust is clinging to a college football world that no longer exists.
Collegiate players can now be paid for their name, image and likeness. Today Reggie Bush would not be considered a scoundrel. Today he would be considered a smart student with savvy advisors.
Furthermore, the NCAA no longer runs the sport. It is being commanded by the major conferences and will eventually disappear altogether. It will surely settle this lawsuit because it no longer has the chops to fight it and win it.
And then there’s Johnny Manziel. Did you see the recent Netflix documentary about his misspent youth? Did you see where he acknowledged accepting thousands of dollars for signing autographs while playing at Texas A&M?
Did the NCAA vacate all of his records? Did this lead to him losing his Heisman Trophy? No, and no, and that’s yet another reason why Reggie Bush should only hear yes.
Yes, the NCAA should restore his greatness. Yes, the Heisman Trust should return his trophy. Yes, the memories of his brilliance should once again be whole.
And yes, he should be able to fulfill hopes outlined at Wednesday’s news conference.
“I’ve got dreams of coming back in this stadium and running out of that tunnel with the football team,” Bush said. “I’ve got dreams of walking back in here and seeing my jersey and my banner right down there next to the rest of the Heisman Trophy winners, but I can’t rightfully do that without my Heisman Trophy.”
Bush screwed up. But enough is enough.
Give him that tunnel run. Give him his banner jersey. Give him back his Heisman.