Former USC football standout Reggie Bush holds press conference to talk about defamationon lawsuit against the NCAA
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LOS ANGELES -- Reggie Bush entered the 1923 Club on the seventh floor of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum with his Heisman Trophy in his right hand. The journey to get the most coveted individual accolade in college football back to the former USC star had been more than a decade in the making -- until the Heisman Trust finally reinstated Bush's award on Wednesday.

Returning to a familiar spot where he starred in the mid-2000s, Bush expressed gratitude and relief that college football's highest individual honor, awarded to him after 2,200 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2005, was once again being officially recognized by the Heisman Trust. 

It was not all smiles, however. Bush also took aim at the NCAA and its now much-maligned infractions case involving him -- the very scandal that resulted in his Heisman forfeiture in the first place. 

"Getting the trophy taken away from me, that was icing on the cake, but being labeled a cheater was far worse," Bush said Thursday. "I have never cheated. There is no proof that I've cheated. ... I know there have been millions of doubters out there, and hopefully now those people can see that what we have been saying all along is true. What we have been fighting for all along is true."

The NCAA's high-profile investigation determined that Bush and his family members received impermissible benefits, resulting in severe penalties. USC vacated the final two wins of its 2004 national title season and all of its wins from 2005. The 2004 Trojans were stripped of their national championship by the FWAA and BCS; the Associated Press still recognizes USC as champions. Scholarship reductions and a postseason ban hampered the program for years after. 

The arrival of name, image, and likeness (NIL) legislation has reopened the conversation about Bush's punishment. College players are now allowed to sign with marketing agents. This situation plays out differently if it happens today. 

Still, Bush's next goal in his uphill fight against the NCAA is getting the awards and accolades reinstated.

"[The] lawsuit we have against the NCAA will include a lot of things, getting our records reinstated," Bush told reporters. "[That's] the next step, and honestly, they should have done that a long time ago. That should be the first thing that they do, is reinstate all of our records. I have my doubts that they will do the right thing. That's why you see [my attorneys] behind me to help us fight."

Bush previously filed a defamation lawsuit against the NCAA in August 2023, disputing a 2021 claim from an NCAA spokesperson that Bush was involved in "pay-for-play arrangements." The NCAA spokesperson said that 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."

The Heisman Trust previously said it would honor Bush's award if the NCAA reinstated his records from his Heisman-winning campaign, but this time it made the first move. 

"This is an important step," said Bush's attorney, Ben Crump. "This is a call to the NCAA to do the right thing and get on the right side of history. So many former Heisman winners reached out and supported Reggie. They were all unified that Reggie deserved his Heisman Trophy back because he earned it."

As part of his punishment, Bush had to be effectively separated from the university. He was welcomed back to the school in June 2020, however, nearly 10 years after the initial punishment and opening the door for his involvement with USC. 

"I can't wait to run out on the football field with the team," Bush said. "It's been a dream of mine for a very long time to come out on that field as the rightful Heisman Trophy winner. ... We want to embrace this football field because we built a tradition that we feel still resonates with the players here today."

With the Heisman Trophy back in Bush's possession, USC will also receive a replica trophy to place inside Heritage Hall alongside the other seven winners, including most recently, Caleb Williams.

"There are people who never dreamed this day would happen," Crump said. "There are people who said that this day would never happen. There are people who tried to prevent this day from ever happening. Well, we just got six words to say to them, brother, we got your Heisman Trophy back."