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Reggie Bush, Billy Cannon and the Heisman Trophy!

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Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Baton Rouge, Louisiana



Reggie Bush gave up his Heisman trophy this week.  If you don’t know anything about him, Bush is the star running back for the NFL’s Superbowl Champion New Orleans Saints.  His press release, obviously written by the PR folks with the Saints, made Bush sound almost like he was accepting the award for the first time.  He praised the Heisman, his coach, his team, the fans, and everyone else, including an endorsement of the American way.  But someone needs to tell Reggie he is doing us no favors.  He repeatedly broke the rules.  And he is a terrible example for kids all over the country who aspire to play college sports.

Bush, in his college days, was an All American at the University of Southern California, and he and his family are accused of receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts from sports agents in direct violation of NCAA rules.  One particular agent, Mike Ornstein, funneled money to Bush’s family for a number of trips, all which were illegal.  So what’s he doing now?  He is still gainfully employed as the agent for New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, who is Bush’s current coach.  At least they keep it all in the family.

Certainly,  winning the Heisman is a big honor.  Just ask any LSU fan, particularly here in my hometown of Baton Rouge.  LSU All American Billy Cannon won the Heisman back in 1958, and despite a federal conviction for counterfeiting, Cannon has kept his trophy that stays on display at local restaurant where die hard LSU fans go to genuflect and eat ribs.

To show you the feelings towards Cannon down in LSU country, he was introduced two years ago at a game in Tiger Stadium on the 50th anniversary of his team’s national championship. The second half kickoff had to be delayed as the crowd continued to give Cannon a standing ovation.

(May I digress for a good story?  Ole’ Miss has always been a major rival for LSU.  Cannon was convicted of making fake hundred dollar bills back in the mid eighties during the time that I served as Louisiana’s Secretary of State.  Federal treasury officials showed up at my office one day to question me about the receipt of a fake bill in payment for a business filing at my office.    It was the first counterfeit bill that was found in circulation.  For years thereafter, I told the anecdote in numerous speeches that I became suspicious when I saw the bill. Down in the corner where normally is printed “In God We Trust,” appeared the words; “Go to Hell Ole’ Miss.”)

So Reggie Bush gives the Heisman trophy back, but who really suffers?  Reggie?  Why, he makes $12.1 million per year, with incentives that could give him $ 1.5 million more, and he is the pride of New Orleans. The Southern California coach?  His name is Pete Carroll, and he was accused by the NCAA of allowing “systematic violations in the USC athletic department, including lack of institutional control.” He received no sanctions from the school, and has now moved on receiving a multimillion dollar contract to coach the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL.

The school itself does suffer some.  USC is banned from post-season play for the next two years and forfeits 30 scholarships over three years.  So if you figure that an athletic scholarship is worth $50,000, that’s $1.5 million. That’s chicken feed compared to the multimillion dollar payouts USC has been receiving for playing in major bowl games year after year. There is a lot of temptation for a coach to look the other way when grades are changed and illicit contracts with an agent are allowed to take place.  Simply put, the penalties are often nothing more than a slap on the wrist, and worth taking chances by some schools because of the huge payouts.

One of the reasons that many young college athletes are tempted to take illegal payments and gifts from agents in the first place is the greed by major college athletic departments. Big time college programs like USC and LSU bank income approaching $100 million a year. The athletes who generate this income are given tuition, fees, room, and board.  That’s it.  And with training commitments that are now year-round and the academic schedules required to stay eligible, it’s a rare college athlete that has the time to work part-time.

Actually, the rules are much more restrictive today than in years past.  I had a full college athletic scholarship back in the early 1960s at the University of North Carolina. Along with the basic room and board, all athletes on scholarship were given a laundry and book allowance. It amounted to around $100 a month.  I had no problem washing my own clothes and buying used books.  The difference allowed me to keep gas in my car, take a date to a movie, and enjoy a few basic amenities of college life.  Four hundred dollars a month today would go a long way in helping young athletes live a bit more comfortably and not be tempted by agents who lurk around college campuses.

The young athletes who aspire to be college stars are not the problem.  There is a culture of corruption that has been allowed to build up, where the message is conveyed that there are big bucks to be made if you can just side step the rules.  Many college athletic departments follow the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” rule.  It’s a slippery slope with a failure to follow the ethical course by those who should be setting the example.  The problem lies with coaches, athletic directors, agents, college presidents, and even parents, who in many cases don’t set the example.

If Reggie Bush had not given back his Heisman trophy, the Heisman trophy Trust would have taken it away from him.  You can’t blame them for being a bit irked at all the perks he illegally received. When Bush was given his award back in 2005 in New York, sports agents illegally paid for the limousine that chauffeured him to the awards presentation.

So the Saints grind out a limp “mea culpa” where Reggie still says he did nothing wrong, but gave the trophy back to stop “the persistent media attention” which has become “distracting.”Â  There’s an empty shelf on Reggie’s bookcase at home where the Heisman sets no more.  But for $13.6 million a year, he will certainly find some easy way to fill the void.


“I think, in all honesty, one of the most exploited groups of people in this country is college athletes. We basically have a job that generates millions and millions of dollars and at the end of the day we don’t see any of it.”

Ohio State wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez

Peace and Justice

Jim brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the South.  You can read all is past columns and see continuing updates at www.jimbrownla.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownla.com. The show is televised at http://www.justin.tv/jimbrownusa.

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