Reggie Bush To Give Back 2005 Heisman Trophy

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For the first time, a Heisman Trophy winner is giving back the award. Reggie Bush says he did not want the dignity of the Heisman stained by the scandal over his acceptance of hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts from two California-based marketing agents while he was Southern California's star running back.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

It's not the kind of first that football star Reggie Bush might hope to put in the record books. But yesterday, the former USC star running back became the first player ever to give back a Heisman Trophy. Bush and USC were hit hard by the NCAA after it concluded that Bush accepted improper benefits from several would-be sports agents.

In a statement yesterday, Bush said winning the Heisman in 2005 was one of the greatest honors of his life. He called forfeiting the award heartbreaking.

To talk more about this, we're joined by NPR's Tom Goldman.

So Tom, Bush gives back the Heisman one step ahead of the sheriff. Is he at least tacitly admitting that he did break NCAA rules?

TOM GOLDMAN: You know, it seems like he is. In a careful, public relations kind of way, Bush says in the statement: Each individual who wins the Heisman carries the legacy of the award, and each one is entrusted with its good name. It is for these reasons that I have made the difficult decision to forfeit that Heisman.

And the statement goes on to say, Linda, that Bush wants to help others avoid some of the mistakes that he made. Now, he doesn't say what those mistakes were, and he never has. In fact, he said at one point several years ago: When the smoke clears, everyone will see we've done absolutely nothing wrong.

WERTHEIMER: So I guess the smoke cleared in June, when the NCAA released its findings after...

GOLDMAN: Right.

WERTHEIMER: ...several years of investigation. What, exactly, did they find?

GOLDMAN: Bush and his stepfather and mother, according to the NCAA, connected with several sports marketing agents and received money, a car, housing, air travel, a washer-dryer - football players need clean clothes, I guess. And they shouldn't have gotten all of this. And because of these improper benefits, the NCAA ruled Bush competed while he was ineligible.

The end result was this tough day yesterday for Bush - although interestingly, it ended with him sending out an upbeat message on his Twitter account. It said: Now that this is behind me, I look forward to the future, and winning more awards and championship here in New Orleans. Who dat? That's the rallying cry of Bush's NFL team, the New Orleans Saints.

WERTHEIMER: So Reggie Bush is happily moving on from his now-tarnished college football career, going to make a lot of money, do very well - we assume. That leaves the current players at USC to deal with the consequences.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, tough consequences: four years' probation, a two-year Bowl ban for the football team, vacating all the wins that Bush took part in - and that's a lot of wins - and the loss of 30 football scholarships over three seasons. That could sting.

WERTHEIMER: So what happens to that trophy?

GOLDMAN: Well, we're not sure yet. The award could be vacated. Or the Heisman Trophy Trust, the group that gives out the award, could give it to the runner-up in the 2005 voting, the former Texas quarterback Vince Young.

But Bush really helped the trust members by making his preemptive move, rather than forcing the trust to take back the trophy, which it reportedly was about to do.

You know, had trust members done that, they would have opened themselves up to criticism. For instance, why Bush and not other trophy winners from the past, alleged to have gotten improper benefits while in school? Lucky for the trust, it won't have to answer those questions.

WERTHEIMER: So does the Reggie Bush affair raise questions about the state of college sports? Will it lead to changes?

GOLDMAN: We don't know. But it certainly does raise questions. And this really is a continuation of - kind of a mixed-up situation in big-time college sports, mainly football and men's basketball. It's really a volatile mix of young athletes making money for universities and not getting any of it themselves, except for their scholarships; athletes tempted by people offering money and perks; and the NCAA rules that student athletes compete as amateurs.

You know, all this is kind of roiling together. It'll probably never be the end of the story, unless college and universities change the approach to sports.

WERTHEIMER: Thank you, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman.

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