NEW YORK — Reggie Bush took the unprecedented step of giving back his Heisman Trophy on Tuesday, saying the scandal over improper benefits while he was a star running back at Southern California should not stain "the dignity of this award."
The New Orleans Saints' running back won the Heisman — symbol of the best player in college football — in 2005.
Returning the trophy has no practical effect on Bush since he's already in the pros and a member of a Super Bowl championship team. However, it is the first time in the award's 75-year history that a player has forfeited it.
USC was hit with heavy sanctions by the NCAA this summer after it determined Bush and his family had received hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts from two fledgling California-based marketing agents. The NCAA ruled that Bush was ineligible for the 2005 season, which opened the possibility that the Heisman Trophy Trust would take back the award.
One of the few guidelines given to Heisman Trophy voters is that a player must be in compliance with NCAA rules to be eligible for the award.
"The persistent media speculation regarding allegations dating back to my years at USC has been both painful and distracting," Bush said in a statement released through the Saints. "In no way should the storm around these allegations reflect in any way on the dignity of this award, nor on any other institutions or individuals.
"For the rest of my days, I will continue to strive to demonstrate through my actions and words that I was deserving of the confidence placed in me by the Heisman Trophy Trust."
Shortly after USC was sanctioned, the eight-member trust, based in New York, said it was considering what to do about Bush, who won in a landslide vote over Texas quarterback Vince Young.
The trust met Tuesday; it had no comment. Whether the 2005 Heisman will be vacated or given to Young remains to be seen.
"Reg will continue to be the 2005 Award recipient and I will continue to be honored to have been in the 2005 Heisman campaign with such a talented athlete," Young posted on his Twitter account.
In handing out its penalties, the NCAA cited USC for a lack of institutional control. Its report cited numerous improper benefits for Bush and former basketball player O.J. Mayo, who spent just one year with the Trojans.
The penalties included the loss of 30 football scholarships over three years and vacating 14 victories in which Bush played from December 2004 through the 2005 season. USC, under coach Pete Carroll, beat Oklahoma in the BCS title game on Jan. 4, 2005, and won 12 games during Bush's Heisman-winning season, which ended with a loss to Texas in the 2006 BCS title game.
After the 2009 season, Carroll left USC to take over as coach of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks.
"It is my hope that this situation serves as a teachable moment to all involved, especially for the young athletes and university and high school administrators of tomorrow," Carroll said in a statement.
"Now that this is behind me I look forward to the future and winning more awards and championships here in New Orleans! Who Dat!" Bush tweeted.