Johnny Manziel backs Reggie Bush, will skip Heisman honors

ByDave Wilson ESPN logo
Saturday, March 2, 2024

Johnny Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, said Saturday that he will not attend the annual Heisman Trophy ceremony until the NCAA returns former USCrunning back Reggie Bush's trophy, which was stripped from him following NCAA sanctions.

"After careful thought and consideration I will be humbly removing myself from the Heisman trophy ceremony until @ReggieBush gets his trophy back," Manziel posted on X. "Doesn't sit right with my morals and values that he can't be on that stage with us every year. Reggie IS the Heisman trophy. Do the RIGHT thing @NCAA the ball is in your court."

Bush and USC each returned their copies of his 2005 Heisman Trophy after a four-year NCAA investigation determined that during his Trojans career, Bush and his family accepted cash, travel expenses and a home in the San Diego area where Bush's parents lived rent-free for more than a year and for which they were provided $10,000 to furnish from agents hoping to sign the star.

Bush's NCAA sanctions were delivered in 2010, and they mandated that Bush disassociate from USC and included a two-year postseason ban for the school, 14 vacated victories (including the 2004 BCS national championship) and the loss of 30 scholarships. His 10-year disassociation period ended in June 2020.

In July 2021, on the day name, image and likeness (NIL) rights were granted to athletes by the NCAA, allowing them to profit in the same way Bush did, he released a statement requesting his Heisman and NCAA statistics be reinstated.

"It is my strong belief that I won the Heisman trophy 'solely' due to my hard work and dedication on the football field and it is also my firm belief that my records should be reinstated," Bush said.

The Heisman Trust said shortly thereafter that it would look forward to "welcoming him back to the Heisman family" if the NCAA opted to reinstate him. But the NCAA declined.

"Although college athletes can now receive benefits from their names, images and likenesses through activities like endorsements and appearances, NCAA rules still do not permit pay-for-play type arrangements," an NCAA spokesperson said in 2021. "The NCAA infractions process exists to promote fairness in college sports. The rules that govern fair play are voted on, agreed to and expected to be upheld by all NCAA member schools."

Bush sued the NCAA in August 2023 for defamation for that "pay-for-play" statement, saying he was given $1,000 a month for expenses, with none of it coming from USC or anyone affiliated with the university. The NCAA filed a motion for dismissal in November.

In the news conference to announce the lawsuit, held at USC's Coliseum, Bush said he had been asked by USC to lead the team out of the tunnel many times but would not do it until he was reinstated.

"I've got dreams of coming back in this stadium and running out of that tunnel with the football team," Bush said. "I've got dreams of walking back in here and seeing my jersey, my banner, right down there next to the rest of the Heisman Trophy winners. But I can't rightfully do that without my Heisman Trophy."

Manziel, who was suspended for one-half of a game in 2013 for taking money to sign autographs while at Texas A&M, recently spoke out about Bush's exile on Shannon Sharpe's podcast, "Club Shay Shay."

"What Reggie did then is legal now that somebody could do, right?" Manziel said. "It wouldn't make him ineligible now, even though it did at the time. And in the grand scheme of things, I probably did way worse than Reggie."

Manziel said former winners discuss Bush's situation at the ceremony every year.

"There's chatter, there's chirp going around that nobody in this crew, in this Heisman fraternity, it [doesn't sit] right with us that Reggie ain't up there with us every year," Manziel said. "It makes every one of us sitting there -- Troy Smith, all these guys that I sit next to -- he deserves to be on that stage with us every year. Unequivocally, without a doubt, without a question, one of the best college football players to ever lace 'em up and a very, very good argument, to be the best ever in college football."

Sharpe asked Manziel if he thought there was a chance Bush could get the Heisman back.

"What I've been told is that Reggie can't get his Heisman Trophy back until the NCAA makes his records and his accolades on the field for that year reinstated," Manziel said. "As we know what the NCAA is now, what do you think the chances are that they're going to do the right thing? Not looking likely. It's sad. From the top down, from the NCAA, they've been so wrong with so many things that you would hope that one day they would do the right thing and do this.

"I'm going to continue to do everything that I can in my power, whatever that may be. ... But for what I can in my part, I will always stand on this table right here for Reggie Bush and do anything that I can in my power to make sure that it's possible for him to even get his trophy back."

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