Keeping Score

Reggie Bush Says He’ll Forfeit His 2005 Heisman Trophy

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REUTERS/Julie Jacobson/Pool

Amid reports that Heisman trophy officials would strip former USC running back Reggie Bush of the 2005 award, Bush, who since college has played football and dated a Kardashian sister as a member of the New Orleans Saints, has agreed to return the famous statue.

The NCAA found that Bush received illegal gifts from sports marketers, and punished the USC football team by making the school forfeit 14 games in which Bush appeared (in the past, Bush has said he “disagreed” with the NCAA’s findings). The organization also banned the Trojans from postseason play the next two years. “One of the greatest honors of my life was winning the Heisman Trophy in 2005,” Bush said in a statement. “For me, it was a dream come true. And I know that any young man fortunate enough to win the Heisman enters into a family of sorts. 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.”

By violating NCAA rules, Bush never belonged on the football field during his  Heisman season. So his Heisman is tainted. Whether Bush is giving it back out of sincerity, or to avoid the embarrassment of having it stripped, give him credit for doing the right thing. Former Texas quarterback Vince Young, who finished second to Bush in the 2005 Heisman voting, has said that he will gladly accept the award. Yahoo! Sports, however, is reporting that Heisman officials will just vacate the 2005 trophy.

Some sports fans point out that not even convicted felon, and alleged murderer, O.J. Simpson has been forced to return his 1968 Heisman (though he did sell it). So why should Heisman officials, and public opinion, push Bush, who committed more venial crimes, into giving it up? The problem with this argument: O.J wasn’t a cheating the law while he was a player, so his on-field accomplishments should stand. It seems that Bush, however, was skirting NCAA law and should have been benched. His Heisman is not legitimate.

However, this whole ordeal is not without hypocrisy, due to the ways in which the NCAA goes about enforcing its laws. The organization never has, and probably never will, possess enough cops to police rogue programs and players around the country. A news outlet, Yahoo! Sports, ignited the Bush investigation. In many ways, college athletics shares commonalities with the performance enhancing drugs issue. Without the proper drug tests, in theory anyone can be a cheat. With an undermanned NCAA enforcement staff, and reliance on schools to self-report their  violations, who knows how many players on the fields, and on the courts, are receiving under-the-table money, or getting grades changed?

Of course, the fact that players aren’t paid in the first place, while they generate millions of dollars in revenues for the school, adds yet another layer of hypocrisy to the college sports system. None of this absolves Bush of blame: he cheated, and has paid a proper price. But is he the only Heisman winner to receive a little extra money or gifts while in college? Doubtful.

(More on TIME.com: The Top 10 Heisman Trophy Winners)

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