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We still live in a world where people are dumb enough to confuse sports with some kind of morality play, and that’s why Reggie Bush felt compelled yesterday to announce that he’s giving back the Heisman Trophy he won in 2005.
The persistent media speculation regarding allegations dating back to my years at USC has been both painful and distracting. 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.
Oh, spare me the sad piano music. It’s an award. The fact that Reggie Bush won it while receiving "improper benefits" isn’t going to make babies starve. People act like Bush disgraced the award. Again, it’s a TROPHY. It has no feelings. It symbolizes nothing except that you piled up good stats while playing a skill position on a Top 5 team. That’s it. To assign any sort of social meaning to an award, particularly one as arbitrary as the Heisman, is idiotic.
Furthermore, do you really think Bush is the only Heisman winner to get free swag under the table? Billy Sims played for Barry freakin’ Switzer when he won the Heisman back in 1978. Do you think he went four years at Oklahoma without sitting in a booster’s hot tub, eating caviar off of stewardesses?
People act like the Heisman Trophy is some sacred trust that only the finest men could possibly be allowed to enter. But OJ Simpson still has one, for crying out loud. And he’s not returning it. That’s good pawning collateral! Rashaan Salaam admitted he spent his entire pro career (and one can reasonably guess, his entire college career) stoned on weed. Ditto Ricky Williams. Should they have been retroactively suspended for drug use and stripped of the award? No.
If Bush was trying to salvage his reputation by returning the award, he fell into the classic Pete Rose Trap set by the media for any athlete they deem in need of repenting. They love to coerce athletes into being remorseful, and then going right ahead and pillorying them for their acts anyway. Look at what Mark Saxon of ESPN wrote in reaction to the news:
Bush never offers a formal apology to the Heisman Trust, USC fans, or the people who deserve it the most: the 105 young guys who have to cap a day of classes by spending three hours banging into each other on the practice field and their nights trying to stay alert through endless meetings.
Wah wah. Saxon lives in some fantasy land where Bush and Bush alone is responsible for USC’s downfall, and not Pete Carroll or Mike Garrett or any of the administrators who turned a blind eye to it all. Athletes have to be perfect, or else all hope is lost! AJ Green was just suspended four games by the NCAA for allegedly selling one of his jerseys, a jersey that the NCAA deems only it should be allowed to profit from. Yet Bush must return the Heisman or else all the children of the world will cry blood. It only makes sense in the land of hacky sportswriting.
Bush never should have given in to the pressure to return the award, especially given that his statement makes it clear he doesn’t feel all that guilty about what he did anyway. He should have kept it and forced the Heisman trust to strip it from him, which would have made them look like hypocrites given that Simpson remains in their good graces. That would have been the smart play.