Reggie Bush is a nonentity at USC
Reggie Bush is nowhere to be seen around the USC campus.
As part of sanctions imposed on the Trojans athletic program after Bush and his family were found to have received cash and benefits from sports marketers while he was competing for USC, the NCAA ordered the school to “disassociate” from the 2005 Heisman Trophy winner.
USC removed Bush’s jersey from a display case at Heritage Hall and shipped its copy of the trophy back to the Heisman Trophy Trust. The giant No. 5 jersey that covered a portion of the peristyle end of the Coliseum also was removed. About 100 mentions of Bush in USC’s football media guide include an asterisk or some form of the phrase “later vacated due to NCAA penalty.”
Even a wall in sports information director Tim Tessalone’s previous office, which featured images of every Sports Illustrated cover graced by USC athletes, had to be modified to remove all images of Bush.
Elsewhere, Bush, 29, keeps a high profile. He is preparing for his ninth NFL season, has earned a Super Bowl championship ring, and has received tens of millions dollars in salary and endorsements.
Bush has rushed for 5,168 yards and scored 55 touchdowns while playing for the New Orleans Saints, Miami Dolphins and the Detroit Lions, and claimed a spotlight off the field as the one-time boyfriend of Kim Kardashian.
Through a Lions spokesman, Bush declined a request from the The Times to be interviewed about his career and time at USC, including the NCAA penalties that were imposed after he was playing in the NFL.
Shortly after the NCAA launched its investigation in 2006, the Saints selected Bush with the second pick in the NFL draft. He signed a six-year contract that was reportedly worth more than $60 million and helped the Saints win the Super Bowl during the 2009 season.
On June 10, 2010, the day the NCAA sanctions were announced, Bush released a statement that said he had “great love” for USC and that “I very much regret the turn that this matter has taken, not only for USC, but for the fans and players.” He said he was “disappointed” by the decision and disagreed with the NCAA’s findings.
A month later, he told reporters in New Orleans, “The whole situation is terrible and nobody feels worse about it than I do.”
USC Athletic Director Pat Haden said in August 2010 that Bush had called him and was contrite during a phone conversation. He added that Bush had not apologized.
“Never did he say ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘I apologize,’ ” Haden said at the time. “Never did he say, ‘I lied to the NCAA’ or ‘I took stuff.’ ”
That September, with the Heisman Trophy Trust scheduled to meet and discuss his situation, Bush announced that he would forfeit the award, becoming the first player in history to do so.
In a statement posted on the Saints’ website, Bush said he made unspecified “mistakes.” He also said he hoped to work with organizers of the award to establish an educational program that would “assist student-athletes and their families [to] avoid some of the mistakes that I made.”
A spokesman for the Heisman Trophy Trust declined to comment last week when asked whether Bush had followed through.
Paul Swangard, managing director of the University of Oregon’s Warsaw Sports Marketing Center, said Bush’s brand suffered because he was unable to “leverage that Heisman” after forfeiting the trophy.
“He seemed to have the personality not just for football but, with the Kardashian dating scene … crossover appeal that very few athletes have,” Swangard said. “I think he lost that opportunity to be in that unique stratosphere of football endorsers.”
He still produced as a player, though.
In 2011, Bush was traded to the Miami Dolphins after agreeing to a two-year contract for nearly $10 million. In March 2013, as a free agent, he signed a four-year $16-million contract with the Lions. He rushed for 1,006 yards and four touchdowns and caught three touchdown passes last season.
Henry Schafer, executive vice president of the Q Scores Company, which measures consumer appeal of personalities and brands, said Bush was at his peak after the Saints’ Super Bowl victory, then swooned after giving up the Heisman Trophy and being traded to Miami. But after a strong season with Detroit, his popularity is well above the average NFL player.
“He’s kind of come all the way back,” Schafer said. “Performing where it counts, on the field, helped him come back image-wise.”
Last month, during an interview in his office at Heritage Hall, Haden was asked what he thought of Bush.
“Reggie Bush is one of the greatest players ever to play college football, “Haden said. "… I love watching Reggie play as much as anybody. But he made a mistake and we’re still paying for it.”
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