Commentary

Reggie Bush's gesture doesn't help USC

Finality on this tainted chapter always seems to be slightly out of reach for Trojans

Updated: September 15, 2010, 1:14 PM ET
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- Forfeiting the Heisman Trophy might be the first step in the public redemption of Reggie Bush, but all it does for USC Trojans football -- the crater he left behind -- is afford it another afternoon of answering questions about the mess nobody can seem to clean up.

Does Tuesday's statement really offer any closure? Bush finally admits he isn't worthy of the trophy, although there was a certain elusiveness in the well-composed statement.

[+] EnlargeReggie Bush
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesReggie Bush's statement falls short of an apology to those who deserve it most: the players.

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.

The 2010 and 2011 USC teams won't be able to compete for a BCS title or even enjoy a bowl game. Because of scholarship limitations, the Trojans' BCS dreams might be out of reach for a decade or so. The Trojans are under probation through 2013.

"This is going to be with us, at least from my perspective, for the next four years," athletic director Pat Haden said Tuesday.

USC didn't need to hear from Bush on Tuesday. It already admitted he wasn't the rightful owner of the award when it shipped back its copy of the trophy nearly two months ago.

Finality on this tainted chapter of USC football always seems to be slightly out of reach, slipping from the new coaches and administrators' grasp each time they think they've got a hold. The appeals hearing over the NCAA sanctions probably won't begin for months and a decision might not be reached until the Trojans have already begun next spring's practices.

Elements of Bush's actions Tuesday were laudable, even if they were way too late to save the program. If nothing else, USC fans must find it a little easier to like Bush now. That matters, since he might have been a great program's greatest player and he continues to represent the school on the reigning Super Bowl championship team.

"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 Trophy Trust," Bush's statement said. "I would like to begin in this effort by turning a negative situation into a positive one by working with the Trustees to establish an educational program which will assist student-athletes and their families avoid some of the mistakes that I made."

How refreshing is it to hear Bush use the word "mistakes," at long last? Up until now, Bush had evaded responsibility as well as he evaded Pac-10 punt-coverage teams, although privately he had taken some ownership of it. Haden told USA Today last month that Bush called to express his remorse about the whole affair.

As for the educational program, it sounds like a lot of nonsense. Does a student-athlete really need to go through a program to realize that taking a bunch of cash and gifts is kind of a no-no?

There's now a certain symmetry to the array of six Heisman trophies laid out in arrowhead formation guarding the East entrance to Heritage Hall. USC gave back its copy of the award to the Heisman Trust in July, about a month after the NCAA slapped the program with stiff sanctions due mostly to Bush's actions.

Of course, one of those bronze trophies is dated 1968 and commemorates the season O.J. Simpson rushed for 1,880 yards. It gets lost in the feeding frenzy of this whole thing, but it should be noted that Bush was never accused of physically harming anyone while receiving all those extra benefits five years ago.

USC is doing its best to scrub all references of Bush from its property. At Saturday's home opener against Virginia, a giant replica of Bush's No. 5 jersey had been removed from the peristyle end of the Coliseum.

Even before he took office as the new university president, Max Nikias, an engineer from Cyprus, was forced to take action on the whole mess, and he elected to ship the trophy back east. There are members of his faculty working to stomp out the worst diseases on the planet, and this is what he gets the most publicity for?

"The Trojan Family honors and respects the USC sporting careers of those persons whose actions did not compromise their athletic program or the opportunities of future USC student-athletes," Nikias said at the time.

That pretty much says it all.

Mark Saxon covers USC football for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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