Commentary

Reggie Bush should keep Heisman

Updated: September 8, 2010, 3:08 PM ET
By Jemele Hill | ESPN.com

Since it is possible Reggie Bush will lose his Heisman Trophy, and USC already has removed all traces of Bush's existence, one final piece of business remains.

When will USC pay back all the money it earned because of Bush's stardom? When will the school's athletic department return the money it made from selling his jerseys, or the multimillion-dollar BCS bowl payouts it received because Bush's talents helped win a lot of games?

And how soon should we expect a check from former USC coach Pete Carroll, one that will cover the financial bonuses he received for going 37-2 and winning two national championships while Bush was his player?

Should we set them up on a payment plan?

According to a Yahoo Sports report on Tuesday, the Heisman Trophy Trust will strip Bush of the most prestigious individual award in college football by the end of September and leave it vacated -- which perhaps would be the last hypocritical nail in the Bush scandal.

Reggie Bush
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesReggie Bush has had success and a big payday since winning the Heisman Trophy. Will taking it away change anything?

That hammer might not swing until some time in the future (ESPN's Chris Fowler was told by his sources that the Heisman trustees are still undecided about what to do with Bush's trophy), but even the news that some people are thinking of rescinding Bush's Heisman means they have failed to realize that exacting a pound of flesh from Bush would be ineffectual within such a broken system.

We know some past Heisman winners are hardly paragons of virtue. Billy Cannon was sentenced to five years in prison for participating in a counterfeiting operation. Billy Sims sold his Heisman to cover a multitude of debts and spent a month in jail for owing $32,900 in back child support.

But Bush, who has committed no criminal acts, has done something so distasteful it warrants his trophy being taken?

Even 1968 Heisman winner O.J. Simpson, who is currently serving a 33-year prison term for his role in an armed robbery and previously beat a double-murder charge, thinks the Heisman trustees are being phony. I understand rules were broken, but the continued castigation of Bush evades the real problem, which is the exploitation of college athletes.

The continued punishing of Bush gives the comfortable illusion that the powers that be in college sports are serious about reprimanding college athletes and universities who break the rules. But as long as it remains a broken system, any punishment of Bush is hollow.

If the NCAA really wanted to prevent situations such as Bush's, it would hammer these schools harder for their willing ignorance. It would levy serious, six- or seven-figure fines against these schools, hit them with significant double-digit scholarship losses and suspend the coaches who are overseeing renegade programs.

Or, the NCAA could create a system that financially compensates revenue-generating athletes, reducing the temptation of inappropriate payments.

[+] EnlargeSims
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesBilly Sims hasn't forgotten winning the Heisman, even if he no longer has a trophy in his hands.

If the Heisman Trust wants to create a new standard of behavior for its winners, then it shouldn't start with Bush. It should start with players such as Sims, Simpson and Cannon.

No matter what's done to Bush, it won't stop college athletes from taking money and other gifts. It won't stop schools from looking the other way when they see their players driving expensive cars they can't possibly afford. And unfortunately, it won't stop the NCAA from prostituting athletes for millions, and then blaming them when they want their cut.

If the Heisman trustees believe taking away Bush's Heisman is supposed to shame him, then you can bet a lot of college athletes can't wait to be humiliated.

Becoming the first player in the Heisman's 75-year history to have his trophy taken away is undoubtedly embarrassing, but Bush was the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft, has won a Super Bowl and has made untold millions. Why would he regret anything that happened at USC?

He shouldn't, and neither should any college athlete who mimics Bush's college path.

Besides, they can take away Bush's Heisman, but it's not as if we won't remember Bush's 1,740 yards and 16 touchdowns rushing that season. Regardless of the NCAA fallout, people still mention the Fab Five (whose Final Four appearances were vacated by the NCAA) as one of the greatest teams in college basketball history.

Punishing Bush won't give the Heisman Trophy added integrity. Just a scapegoat.

Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.

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