The Reggie Bush Affair

The Reggie Bush affair, in which the NFL star was stripped of his 2005 Heisman Trophy as the year’s outstanding college football player (to be more accurate, he was about to be stripped of it and chose to relinquish the award voluntarily), is one of those periodic incidents that exposes the media’s rudimentary and flawed ethical instincts, as well as the public’s. Baseball’s steroid scandal is another example. At its core, the Bush situation is infuriatingly simple: he was not eligible for the Heisman in 2005, because he had accepted gifts from alumni and other benefits and amenities forbidden by NCAA rules. It doesn’t change the correctness of  the decision to rescind Bush’s award to note that the NCAA is corrupt, that college athletes are exploited by the system, that anyone would be tempted by all the people trying to throw money, cars and other trinkets at them, that the mess of big time college football isn’t cured by punishing Reggie Bush, or any of the other dozen excuses, rationalizations and irrelevant arguments bleated into cyberspace by various sports pundits who lack the skills to decipher a basic ethics problem.

Nor is it relevant that Bush “deserved” the award, because he really was the best player that year. Yes, and Al Gore “deserved” to be elected President in 2000 because he got the most votes, except that there are those inconvenient things called “rules.” The rules of American elections say that candidates are determined by the Electoral vote total, and the rules of the Heisman Trophy require that the recipient not violate NCAA rules by accepting illicit gifts. This really isn’t so hard, though a USA Today poll suggests that a majority of Americans don’t comprehend the “if you violate the rules, it doesn’t matter that you would have won without breaking them” principle.  Someone who breaks the rules shouldn’t be able to win an award, race, competition or job over a competitor who followed them.

Again: this isn’t a difficult concept, or shouldn’t be.

Yes: the NCAA is hypocritical, college athletic programs are corrupt, college football players are no more student athletes than they are Labrador Retrievers, and the whole system is built on greed, lies and hypocrisy. None of that changes the fact that Bush couldn’t win the award, any more that the fishing boat that had a team member without a license could win that fishing competition. Rules exist to be followed.

Reggie Bush still didn’t deserve to win the 2005 Heisman, because he wasn’t eligible. It’s obvious, just, and simple.

Oh…he should have to pay back the cash prize, too.

4 thoughts on “The Reggie Bush Affair

  1. I thought he gave up the award…
    (Even though it looked like the process to take it back had begun.)

    Who was pure as driven snow, that year?
    I doubt no one was, or has been since.

    This is a thorny ethical dilemma, though.
    Especially for a young adult.
    Seems to me there are two sets of rules in college sports.
    The NCAA official ones and the set that is truly in play.
    Which one to follow?

    • The official ones. The “set that is truly in play” isn’t documented anywhere and you can’t follow something that isn’t documented.

    • Yes, I should have mentioned that Reggie gave up the award—it was a little like Nixon resigning before they could impeach him. Thanks.

      The others who were not driven-snow pure didn’t win the Heisman. Now Bush is just like them…which is fair.

  2. I think people are confusing the rules with what you can usually get away with. The rules are in print and there is no confusion about what they are. There is also corruption, and there is confusion about how much corruption you can get away with. Corrupt behavior may be ignored, but that can change and the change can be retroactive.

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