Reggie Bush is fighting back — and suing the NCAA — after he was accused of being involved in a “pay-for-play” scheme while attending the University of Southern California.
“Most recently, the NCAA has made a statement about me, accusing me of engaging in a pay-for-play arrangement, which is 100 percent not true,” Bush, 38, said in a press conference on Wednesday, August 23, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. “Not only is it not true, but there is no evidence to even support that claim.”
Bush cited a comment made in July 2021 by NCAA spokesperson Megan Durham to ESPN as the reason for his defamation lawsuit against the organization, which was filed on Wednesday.
After the Supreme Court ruled 9-0 against the NCAA in a 2021 case brought by former college athletes arguing they deserved additional compensation, the NCAA announced that athletes could be paid for the usage of their name, image and likeness (NIL). Durham was asked whether the NCAA would consider giving Bush back his 2005 Heisman Trophy — he forfeited the award in 2010 after it was determined he and his family had accepted money while he was playing for USC — and reinstate all the records he broke.
In response, Durham said, “Although college athletes can now receive benefits from their names, images and likeness through activities like endorsements and appearances, NCAA rules still do not permit pay-for-play type arrangements.” The statement was then published and circulated throughout the news cycle attached to Bush’s name.
Bush’s attorney argued during the press conference and in the court documents obtained by Us Weekly that the NCAA’s statement falsely implied that Bush was part of a “pay-for-play arrangement,” which the former NFL player denied.
“’Pay-for-play,’ as the NCAA uses the phrase, refers to ‘inducements for initial enrollment and transfers,’” Bush’s legal team pointed out in its filing. “As such, the Statement is false. Mr. Bush was never offered money to compete for USC. Mr. Bush never considered accepting such a proposal. Mr. Bush did not accept any money or benefits in return for enrolling at and/or competing for USC.”
In addition to Bush’s punishment, USC had its 2004 National Championship vacated and was heavily sanctioned. Bush has maintained his innocence despite the NCAA claiming that his family received monetary benefits, including payment for travel expenses and a home in Southern California while he was enrolled at USC.
Bush’s attorney pointed out that even during the investigation into his family and alleged acceptance of money during college, Bush was never found guilty of “pay-for-play” actions.
“The Statement is patently false. Mr. Bush did not accept any payments in return for playing football for USC as a student–athlete; there is no basis for anyone to suggest that Mr. Bush ever considered, let alone entered into, such an arrangement,” the filing states, again referring to the NCAA’s 2021 remarks about Bush. “The Statement was made with knowledge it was false or with reckless disregard for its falsity. … As a result of the Statement, Mr. Bush has been damaged and is entitled to presumed, compensatory and punitive damages.”
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump backed up Bush’s claim of innocence, telling reporters, “Reggie Bush did not accept any kind of pay for playing for USC. The truth is, Reggie Bush played for USC out of devotion, devotion that earned him many collegiate records and awards including the Heisman Trophy, the highest honor bestowed on a college football player. And it was his devotion that helped earn his team … multiple national championships. And it was Reggie’s devotion and the other players in college football that earned the NCAA billions of dollars — billions of dollars.”
Bush is seeking “judgment in his favor and against the NCAA” in the form of “presumed and compensatory damages to be established at trial; punitive damages; prejudgment and post-judgment interest as the maximum rate allowed by law; and all other relief as appropriate in law or equity,” per the lawsuit.
The retired athlete played for USC from 2003 to 2005 and then in the NFL from 2006 to 2016. Bush told his fans on Wednesday that he hopes to return to USC soon and have his name cleared once and for all.
“I got dreams of coming back into this stadium and running out of that tunnel with the football team,” he said. “I got dreams of walking in here and seeing my jersey right there next to the other Heisman Trophy winners, but I can’t rightfully do that without my Heisman Trophy.”