Reggie Bush is suing the NCAA for libel, though it seems more like a proxy battle to finally get back the 2005 Heisman Trophy he forfeited due to NCAA violations.
The defamation suit, officially announced Wednesday at a press conference at the Los Angeles Coliseum, appears legally hopeless (more on that later). However, his overall goal of restoring the honor he earned at USC is understandable.
It’s just that Bush is fighting the wrong battle, or at least the wrong entity.
Instead of fretting about the NCAA, which retroactively ended its storied season over eligibility concerns, he should take the PR battle to the Heisman Trust. It is that separate and unaffiliated New York organization that continues to claim that it must abide by the NCAA’s rulings and thus will not return the Heisman to Bush until the NCAA reinstates him.
But the Heisman Trust doesn’t have to wait for the NCAA.
What Bush filed on Wednesday is a lawsuit designed more to attract attention than to deliver a verdict. There is no formal request to return the Heisman.
Instead, it goes against a 2021 NCAA media statement suggesting that Bush was involved in a “pay-for-play-type arrangement.” In 2010, the NCAA penalized Bush for receiving impermissible fringe benefits from would-be marketing executives that compromised his amateur status. They didn’t “pay” him to play. They “paid” to sign him when he was called up to the NFL.
It’s a distinction without much difference, but Bush is absolutely right.
Bush’s attorney claims the NCAA statement is “substantially and irreparably damaged [Bush’s] reputation.” This seems like quite a range.
Bush currently plays a major role in Fox’s college football broadcast, stars in countless national advertising campaigns, and is certainly more popular than ever.
The Bush camp is probably counting on fans — who are largely on his side — not to delve into the details. Instead of discussing whether or not Bush has been discredited, they will focus on whether Bush should get his Heisman back.
“I dream of coming back to this stadium and running out of that tunnel with the football team,” Bush said Wednesday high atop the LA Memorial Coliseum. “I dream of walking back in here and seeing my jersey and banner down there, next to the rest of the Heisman Trophy winners. But I can’t rightfully do that without my Heisman Trophy.”
Bush can preach, but that doesn’t mean the bureaucratic NCAA will give in and reinstate his eligibility, allowing the Heisman Trust to return the trophy.
The better strategy is to skip the middleman (NCAA) and put pressure directly on the Heisman Trust. They—and not the NCAA—hand out the award. And it is they, for no particularly convincing reason, who say they must follow the standards and rulings of the NCAA.
It’s the Heisman Trust that can quickly change course, noting that due to the changing nature of the NCAA’s amateurism rules — namely, the 2021 arrival of Name, Image, and Likeness benefits — it no longer wants former players to live up to the former standards. to hold.
Problem solved, just like that.
The arrival of NIL has been at the heart of Bush’s increasingly vocal plea about why he should get his Heisman back. When he was still playing, it was a clear and well-known violation of the rules by some young marketing agents who gave Bush and his family so-called “perks” in an effort to secure his future business.
Because of this, many players have been excluded from participation over the years. Entire teams had entire seasons, even bowl games and Final Fours, officially “vacated” as a result.
But what the NCAA once believed was dead wrong is now actually allowed: current players can hire professional representation and make money through endorsements, businesses, and marketing deals.
To think how far — and how far out of the shadows — things have come: USC’s current star and most recent Heisman winner — quarterback Caleb Williams — will be a recurring character in Dr. Pepper’s “Fanville” commercials that will air repeatedly during college football. games this season. This does not apply to extra deals with United Airlines, Fanatics and PlayStation.
There is little doubt that Bush violated old NCAA statutes. However, if the NCAA’s rules and sensibilities on the subject have evolved—albeit with the bayonet point of court rulings and bipartisan state laws—why shouldn’t those of the Heisman Trust evolve as well?
But if the NCAA restored Bush’s eligibility to revive that magical 2,218 yards and 18 touchdowns from the line of scrimmage, it would open a Pandora’s box, with all sorts of possible legal obligations. For example, who knows how many coaches have been fired and thus not paid due to eligibility criteria violations involving players.
Expecting the NCAA to open up is wishful thinking.
However, the Heisman Trust is more easily influenced. If they cared what outside entities thought of their past winners, OJ Simpson might not still have his trophy.
The thing is, OJ won the Heisman. So did Reggie Bush. They were both the best players in their respective seasons.
Bush may have been the one who lost his Heisman in 2010, but it is the Heisman Trust that has the power to re-name him the 2005 winner today.
That’s the tree Reggie Bush has to make bark.