Reggie Bush is giving back his Heisman Trophy.
Bush, the New Orleans Saints tailback, announced Tuesday that he would forfeit the hallowed award he won at USC in 2005. Earlier this summer, the NCAA hammered the Trojans with severe sanctions due to improprieties involving their former All-American and record-shattering runner.
“One of the greatest honors of my life was winning the Heisman Trophy in 2005. For me, it was a dream come true,” Bush said in a 343-word statement released through the Saints public-relations department. “But I know the Heisman is not mine alone. Far from it. I know that my victory was made possible by the discipline and hard work of my teammates, the steady guidance of my coaches, the inspiration of the fans, and the unconditional love of my family and friends.
“And I know that any young man fortunate enough to win the Heisman enters into a family of sorts. Each individual 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 my title as Heisman winner of 2005.”
The Heisman Trophy Trust reportedly was prepared to meet Tuesday to vote whether to strip Bush of the award. Last month, USC returned its copy of the trophy after the NCAA smacked the program with a two-year bowl ban and massive scholarship cuts, finding Bush had accepted illegal benefits during the ’04-05 seasons.
It’s the first time in the award’s 75-year history that it has been returned by a recipient.
“The Heisman Trophy Trust will issue a statement in due course,” William J. Dockery, president of the Trust, said in a release. “Until that time, we will have no further comment.”
Bush’s announcement apparently was a preemptive strike to take the pressure off the Trust and some attention away from the Trojans.
“The persistent media speculation regarding allegations dating back to my years at USC has been both painful and distracting,” Bush said. “In no way should the storm around these allegations reflect in any way on the dignity of this award, nor on any other institutions or individuals. Nor should it distract from outstanding performances and hard-earned achievements either in the past, present or future.
Bush rushed for 1,740 yards and 16 touchdowns in ’05 and also caught 43 passes for another 509 yards and seven TDs. His 2,890 all-purpose yards that season set a Pac-10 record and were the third most in NCAA history, as the Trojans went undefeated during the regular season, only to lose to Texas in the Bowl Championship Series title game.
Few outside of Texas (See Young, Vince) would debate Bush was the best player in the country that season, but in order to be eligible for the Heisman, a player has to be eligible by NCAA standards. Though his misconduct did not come to light until well after he’d left the Downtown Athletic Club podium — and been taken No. 2 overall in the ’06 NFL Draft by the Saints — the pressure was mounting for Bush to return the award because of the egregious violations of rules that would have made him ineligible during his time as a player.
Bush’s statement did not stop with a mea culpa, his first real admissions of wrongdoing since the NCAA commenced investigating USC more than four years ago. Bush also said he wants to turn a “negative situation into a positive one” by working with the Heisman Trust to establish an “educational program” to assist student-athletes and their families to avoid the pitfalls that cost him arguably the most cherished award in all of sports.
“For the rest of my days, I will continue to strive to demonstrate through my actions and words that I was deserving of the confidence placed in me by the Heisman Trust,” he said. “I will forever appreciate the honor bestowed upon me as a winner of the Heisman. While this decision is heart-breaking, I find solace in knowing that the award was made possible by the support and love of so many. Those are gifts that can never be taken away.”