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Playing take-away

Bush's fellow Heisman winners weigh in on inquiry, raising issues of fairness, rush to judgment and parental involvement

December 20, 2007|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — One says that rules are rules, and Reggie Bush should lose his Heisman Trophy if he broke them.

Another says Bush's parents -- not the former USC star -- should be punished.

A third warns about rushing to judgment before all the facts are known.

Those were among the views of fellow Heisman winners when asked recently whether Bush should be allowed to keep his trophy if the NCAA determines he was ineligible when he won it.

"Everybody has to play by the same rules," said Tim Brown, who won the 1987 Heisman as a Notre Dame receiver. "Did what happened with him off the field encourage him or entice him to play better football on the field? Did it free him up? You just don't know. You can't ever evaluate that kind of stuff. If I'm getting paid, I can go out and be free playing the game if I don't have those kind of pressures on me."

Bush is facing an NCAA investigation into whether he and his family accepted improper benefits when he was at USC. He is also the defendant in a civil lawsuit by a would-be San Diego sports marketer, who has claimed he gave the player and his family cash and gifts over a period during 2004-05.

If the NCAA imposes a penalty on USC and/or Bush, the New Orleans Saints running back could have his '05 Heisman revoked. That would be unprecedented.

"You've got to get all the facts before you rush to judgment," said Ty Detmer, who won the Heisman as Brigham Young's quarterback in 1990. "Now if it was the kid's parents taking things and he really had no control over that, he still had to play on the field and do all those things. You can't fault a kid for what his parents do. So we should wait to get all the facts on it.

"If it turns out to be something else, then you make a judgment off of those facts."

Set for release in mid-January is "Tarnished Heisman: Did Reggie Bush Turn His Final College Season Into a Six-Figure Job?" a book written by Don Yaeger and Jim Henry.

According to Simon & Schuster's website: "With the explosive information revealed in 'Tarnished Heisman,' Bush stands to be ruled ineligible -- a decision that could cost his alma mater the 2004 national championship title, force the forfeit of every game Bush played in after losing his eligibility, and potentially strip Reggie Bush of the shining prize of his college career: the Heisman Trophy."

Heisman officials declined to comment on the situation or the book at the annual dinner honoring the latest winner, who this year is Florida quarterback Tim Tebow.

Among the former winners who attended the dinner, many said they have paid little or no attention to the Bush saga. Bush did not attend the dinner, although winners who are currently in the NFL seldom do.

"As far as what he's doing now, I think he's doing a hell of a job in the NFL," said former Nebraska running back Mike Rozier, who won in 1983. "I don't know anything about the other incident, but I do know that he didn't tarnish anything."

Said South Carolina's George Rogers, the 1980 winner: "Don't go after him. Go after his parents. They're the one who supposedly got the house, right? It really makes no sense to me."

Former UCLA quarterback Gary Beban, who won the Heisman in 1967, said it would be "most unfortunate" if the trophy was taken back.

"But if things weren't done properly, then you do have to suffer the consequences. You have to be eligible in an NCAA sense," he said. "Eventually [Bush] is going to have to say yes or no. And then deal with the consequences."

A Heisman winner has never been stripped of the trophy, although several have run afoul of the law over the years. Louisiana State's Billy Cannon, the 1959 winner, served time in federal prison for counterfeiting dollar bills that he stored in ice chests and buried in the backyard of his home. And, most notably, USC's O.J. Simpson was held liable by a civil jury for the killings of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman, in a wrongful-death lawsuit.

"Unfortunately, we've had Heisman winners accused of worse [than Bush], and you didn't strip those guys," Tim Brown said. "I know that wasn't done in college, but at the same time it is what it is."

Several of the winners questioned whether former Texas quarterback Vince Young, runner-up to Bush in the 2005 voting, would even want the trophy, considering he wasn't awarded it in the first place.

And Brown said Bush might already be dealing with a punishment of sorts -- one from the court of public opinion.

"That's something that Reggie is always going to have to live with," he said. "Even though people are going to announce him as a Heisman Trophy winner, he's going to know how people really feel about it. That's punishment enough, as far as I'm concerned."

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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