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Move toward daylight

His motives may not seem very genuine, but the former USC star for the first time takes a step on the road to redemption

September 15, 2010|BILL PLASCHKE

I wrote that he should do it, but I never thought he would.

Of all the futile requests I've made in this column over the years -- buy this shortstop, hire this coach, dump that Manny -- my latest was surely my craziest.

Reggie Bush should give back his 2005 Heisman Trophy? I've believed it, I typed it, but I was certain this newspaper's space was wasted on it.

No celebrated pro athlete ever admits to a mistake, do they? Especially not an athlete raised on USC arrogance. Especially not a mistake that would cost them possession of the most famous trophy in sports.

None of today's phony superheroes is ever strong enough to admit their mortality, are they?

Well, turns out, one of them is.

Reggie Bush gave back his Heisman Trophy on Tuesday, and while you might say he only did it under duress, I say, at least he did it.

While you might say he only did it because the Heisman folks were five minutes from yanking it from him, I say, at least he did it.

And while you might wonder why he didn't give it back months ago, an admission of guilt that might have led the NCAA police to go easier on his former school, well, I agree.

But in a world where a conscience is as difficult to find as a clean urine sample, we need to embrace even a glimpse of one.

Reggie Bush could have fought this. He could have sued over this. He could have dragged the trophy through the same sort of mud in which the current Trojans program currently slogs.

This is a guy who once somersaulted into end zones and dated Kim Kardashian. You don't think he wouldn't have fought a protracted battle for the ultimate bling?

No matter the reason, the important thing is that he didn't. No matter how badly he has behaved while denying all those damning allegations for all these years, there is remorse here, which is a first step toward redemption.

It would be a shame if future generations of USC fans couldn't even look one of their greatest running backs in the eye. Though it will still probably be several years before he can return to campus, his actions Tuesday were a lean in the right direction.

"I know that any young man fortunate enough to win the Heisman enters into a family of sorts," Bush said in a statement from New Orleans. "Each individual carries the legacy of the award and each one is entrusted with its good name. It is for these reasons that I have made the difficult decision to forfeit my title as Heisman winner of 2005."

Bush never actually admitted that his family caused USC's probation by accepting rent-free housing from an agent, but the part about letting down a "legacy" and soiling a "good name" pretty much explains it.

And, yes, he acknowledged the hammering he was absorbing in pages like these, writing, "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."

It wasn't the storm that rained on the dignity, it was Bush himself, and even if he didn't exactly fall to his knees, he became the first Heisman winner in the 75-year history of the award to hand back the goods, and that's all that counts.

"I think it was a very noble thing for Reggie to do," said Pat Haden, the USC athletic director whose school had earlier sent back its version of the Heisman. "I think it was a thoughtful decision by Reggie."

Not so thoughtful would be any move by the Heisman folks to award the trophy to the 2005 second-place finisher Vince Young. How do they know he would have won it if Bush were ineligible? Just a guess, but the winner for a second consecutive season might have been USC's Matt Leinart, who finished third in the balloting and probably suffered by splitting the USC votes with Bush.

Of course, if another vote were taken today, Young would win in a landslide. The once-proud Trojans name is mud everywhere, witness the way they've fallen four spots in the Associated Press poll to No. 18 despite winning -- albeit barely and awfully -- their first two games.

On a day filled with sadness and relief, at least there was also a bit of humor. Did you see Pete Carroll's statement from Seattle?

"It is my hope that this situation serves as a teachable moment to all involved, especially for the young athletes and university and high school administrators of tomorrow," he said.

How about a teachable moment for NFL coaches who have never publicly taken responsibility for creating an environment that led to Tuesday's surrender of the Heisman Trophy.

Pete, your turn.


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