In a statement released Thursday, Bush announced that his decision to return the award was not an admission of guilt or any wrong doing; rather, Bush stated that the decision was motivated out of his respect for the prestige of the award and its previous winners. Citing his recent negative publicity and association with the award, Bush told reporters that he didn’t want to tarnish the reputation of the award in any way. The media is creating the negative attention, guilty or not, so Bush respectfully walked away. At least this is his reasoning.
My question though is this: even if Bush is 100% guilty of the infraction(s) of which he is accused, should those affect his Heisman Trophy?
My personal answer is no. The Heisman Trophy is voted on by members of the media and the elite fraternity of previous winners and given to the player whom they see as the best player in the country based on his on-field performance. I think that is the key here. You can argue that Bush was ineligible – and you would be right to do so; however, that ruling was only made after the fact (5 years for goodness sake), and Bush did play that season. And based on his performance and his ability as one of the most exciting and dynamic college football players ever, he was awarded that year’s trophy. And the vote wasn’t even close. Bush won by a landslide over Texas QB Vince Young.
I think it is a much different argument for USC vacating their team’s championship and any wins in which Bush was playing. The team was using an NCAA ineligible player, in NCAA games, and won an NCAA championship. Bush, on the other, was not cheating personally. He wasn’t caught using any performance-enhancing drugs, or steroids, and using a jet pack, he simply excelled on the field through his own abilities. Plus, the Heisman Trophy is a privately awarded honor, and not directly affiliated with the NCAA. Bush really did play, and on the field, he didn’t cheat, for which the award was given to him.
Either way, what’s done is done. Some are saying that it is a mature move on Bush’s part. Perhaps they are right. I probably wouldn’t have given it up (that probably bodes well for Bush’s maturity). I do applaud the Heisman Trust’s decision to leave the 2005 award vacant, rather than passing in onto another person, presumably Vince Young. If one thing is for certain, he did not win it. Would Young have won it if Bush were not allowed to play that season? Probably. But he did. And he didn’t. I think the Trust got it right in 2005 (barring the National Championship game, and I blame that on Pete Carroll) and right again in 2010. Well done.