METAIRIE, La. ― Two days after announcing he was forfeiting his 2005 Heisman Trophy, Saints running back Reggie Bush spoke of problems with the NCAA and how the system needs to change.
But he wouldn’t admit any guilt or wrongdoing.
“It’s definitely not an admission of guilt,” Bush said amongst a throng of media at the Saints’ Airline Drive facility Thursday afternoon. “It’s me showing respect to the Heisman Trophy itself and to the people who come before me and the people coming after.
“You’re going to keep hearing the same thing because that’s what it is. It’s not an admission of guilt, it’s me feeling like this is the best thing for me and the Heisman Trust right now.”
Still, Bush, who in a statement released by the Saints on Tuesday said he wanted to start a recruiting education program for high school athletes, aimed his criticism at the NCAA.
The NCAA placed Southern California on four years of probation including a two-year bowl ban and scholarship reduction in part for findings that included Bush receiving improper benefits while at the school.
“You’ve got universities making millions of dollars off these kids and they don’t get paid,” Bush said. “The majority of college athletes who come in on scholarship come in on nothing. That’s where you have a problem.
“You’re making all this money off these kids and you’re giving them crumbs and then you’re surrounding these kids with money and telling them not to touch it.”
Bush, according the NCAA, received benefits from a sports marketing agency, including but not limited to money, a car, housing, a washer and dryer, air travel and transportation.
Now Bush wants to work with high school and college athletes in helping them make “the right” choices.
“You’re still a kid but you’re still asked to make adult decisions,” Bush said.
He added, “I would love to develop a program that can aid those kids better than what they have now. Obviously whatever they have now isn’t working. Whatever the NCAA has, whatever programs they have, aren’t working and it needs to be changed. If it’s not changed, it’s going to continue and it hasn’t stopped yet.”
Closer to home, Bush said he tried to focus on football, but admitted that the off-field issues continued to play a role in his concentration. With news continuing to swirl about Bush and the trophy, he said he made the decision to give it back because it was the right thing to do.
This despite most people he talked to telling him to keep it, including his mother and father.
“It was extremely difficult,” Bush said. “It wasn’t an easy decision but I felt like it was the best one. It wasn’t one deep down inside I wanted to make, but it was one that I felt like it was the right thing to do and sometimes we don’t always do the things we feel like we want to do. We do the things we feel like are the best things to do.”
He did so knowing he had the full support of his teammates and coaches, all of whom said the attention on Bush hasn’t been a distraction.
“He never wants to do anything to hurt his team, either USC or New Orleans,” current Saints and former USC defensive lineman Sedrick Ellis said. “And it's tough for the school because they were put in a tough position also. I wasn't there I don't know exactly what happened with the whole thing, but I wish Reggie all the support I can give him and the school as well. He's done what he felt that he had to do and hopefully -- at this point he's put himself out there and did that, and hopefully they'll leave him alone.”
Said quarterback Drew Brees, “None of us can imagine what he's going through or even exactly what the facts are just because, hey, we weren't there and a lot of things get thrown around and it's none of our business other than we're his friends, we're his teammates and we don't like to see the guy going through something like that.”