*I was never a great athlete. I played Pop Warner as a kid and was on the football team throughout my four years at John Muir High School in Pasadena, California but I never developed the skills or passion to become anything remotely resembling a star player.
But running around on all those football fields helped me learn a lot about character: diligence, teamwork and the ability to push past perceived limitations and the finality of competition.
That’s why I’m convinced that forcing Reggie Bush to relinquish his Heisman Trophy was a travesty that undermines the essence and the value of sports.
Sports captivate us because they allow us to witness and participate in true competition – contests where the outcome does not hinge on one’s racial or ethnic background, socio-economic status, political or social connections, off-the-field associations, etc. In sports, the bottom line is performance. So, we are thrilled and inspired by the purity and magnificence of similarly skilled and comparably equipped opponents battling it out according to established rules of play.
Reggie Bush broke the rules, but he did not dishonor the game. Accepting gifts or money from sports agents, university alumni, coaches, etc. violates the NCAA code — but those standards have nothing to do with how an athlete plays. Bush earned the Heisman Trophy through superior execution on the football field. He proved his mettle in the heat of competition, which is what sports are all about. Reggie Bush’s achievements at USC cannot be undone, so all of his awards and history should be honored.
By taking away his Heisman Trophy and erasing his achievements from the record books, the NCAA is not only over-punishing Bush, it is taking a sledge hammer to the concept of greatness achieved through competition which is the cornerstone of sports itself. Returning Bush’s award to the Heisman Trust actualy devalues the award by sending out a signal that greatness achieved through hard work and open competition is less important than controversial rules capriciously enforced.
On top of that, Reggie Bush’s unprecedented punishment will do nothing to prevent future violations of the NCAA’s questionable rules. This could actually lead to greater cynicism among young athletes who already regard college sports as an exploitive plantation system. The result could be more, not fewer, athletes taking whatever perks they can get from the officials and business people who will certainly continue to woo talented kids with lavish handouts.
No high principles were affirmed or protected by stripping Reggie Bush of college football’s highest honor. On the contrary, the noble ideas of competition which lie at the heart of sports may have been damaged more deeply than the NCAA or the Heisman Trust realize.
Thanks for listening. I’m Cameron Turner and that’s my Two Cents.
Watch Cameron Turner deliver his essay on Reggie Bush: