LOS ANGELES (AP) — Former Southern California running back Reggie Bush plans to file a defamation lawsuit against the NCAA over a statement made by college sports' governing body about the reasoning for its decision not to restore the Heisman Trophy winner's records.
Bush and his attorneys at McCathern PLLC announced the lawsuit Wednesday in the rented President's Suite atop the Coliseum, the Trojans' home for the past 100 years. The Peristyle end of the venerable stadium features large banners honoring all of USC's eight Heisman winners except current quarterback Caleb Williams and Bush, who is hoping to clear up his current murky status in college football history.
Bush is filing the suit as part of his quest to reclaim the Heisman he voluntarily returned in 2010 after the school was hit with heavy NCAA sanctions related to improper financial benefits he received during his playing career.
“I’ve got dreams of coming back in this stadium and running out of that tunnel with the football team,” Bush said. “I’ve got dreams of walking back in here and seeing my jersey and my banner right down there next to the rest of the Heisman Trophy winners. But I can’t rightfully do that without my Heisman Trophy.”
Bush is suing over a statement issued in July 2021 describing the star's playing career at USC as a “pay-for-play” arrangement. The NCAA used the phrase while detailing why it wouldn't restore the records of Bush's playing career, which the Heisman Trust has cited as the next step in returning Bush's trophy.
“The NCAA’s statement is completely false and highly offensive,” a statement from Bush's lawyers read. “The NCAA knew Mr. Bush was never even accused of, involved in, much less sanctioned for any 'pay–for–play arrangement' which never occurred.”
The NCAA didn't immediately respond to Bush's lawsuit.
“Pay-for-play” typically refers to a different type of improper benefit arrangement than the one which the NCAA cited in leveling USC’s sanctions. The NCAA claimed Bush accepted extra benefits from people not affiliated with USC who hoped to cash in on Bush's professional career as agents or sports marketers. Bush played 11 seasons with five NFL teams after New Orleans chose him with the second overall pick in 2006.
“Not only is it not true, but there is no evidence to even support that claim,” Bush said. “It wasn’t even part of the initial NCAA investigation, so this is a new accusation as far as I’m concerned. That’s what this lawsuit is about. It’s about truth, getting the facts out and holding the NCAA accountable, which I think is maybe the first time in my memory that this has happened, someone holding them accountable for their actions and what they’ve done in regards to me and other players as well.”
Two years ago, after NCAA athletes were given the right to profit off their name, image and likeness rights, the Heisman Trust issued a statement saying it would look “forward to welcoming (Bush) back to the Heisman family” if the NCAA formally restored its recognition of Bush’s accomplishments. The NCAA subsequently issued the statement that sparked Bush's lawsuit.
The NCAA's sanctions against USC included a two-year bowl ban, 14 vacated victories and severe scholarship restrictions. Bush also was required to “disassociate” from USC for 10 years.
That ban ended in 2020, and USC has already welcomed back one of the greatest running backs in school history. Bush wants to take the next step in restoring the luster to one of the greatest careers in college football history.
“When the (new) NIL (rules) came out, I thought that I would at least be able to get my Heisman Trophy back, at least have those things restored to me," Bush said. “That was a horrible feeling, and it's something that still sticks out in my mind.”
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