On Tuesday, Reggie Bush became the first player to ever forfeit the Heisman Trophy in its 75-year existence.
The Heisman Trophy, given to an outstanding college football athlete each year, was awarded to Bush in 2005 while he was a running back for the USC Trojans. It was determined recently by the NCAA that Bush had violated the terms of collegiate football by accepting lavish gifts from potential agents while on the team. Because of this, Bush was ruled ineligible for the Trophy.
The NCAA penalized USC for lack of institutional control and had them give up their victories in the ‘05 season in which Bush had played, as well as a decrease in football scholarships and a two-year bowl ban.
While the Heisman Trust was still considering what to do about Bush, Bush himself released a statement that he was forfeiting the award. (For more details, check the article on ESPN about the situation.)
So, now that you’re caught up, what does this have to do with PR?
This situation is a sticky one and can definitely affect reputations. This is where PR has the opportunity to find solutions.
While Bush’s reputation hasn’t taken too horrible of a hit due to his actual talent and success as a member of Super Bowl champs New Orleans Saints, there is still the increased media spotlight and the fact that he is now in the history books as the first to return the Trophy. Releasing an official forfeit statement where he is humble and apologetic was definitely a great PR tactic, reminding people of his character and human frailty. It was also a wise PR move for Bush to wait to discuss the incident until he was prepared to do so.
In the statement, Bush said he wanted to start an educational program with the Heisman trustees for student-athletes. I personally think that part was a little unnecessary and that he would have been fine with solely apologizing. However, I think he should have formally apologized to the current USC football team who is now unable to compete. For the future, the best thing for Bush to do is to focus on football and his current team. By showing his talent on the field, people will get over this incident quickly. Many already are.
On the other hand, USC is the one taking the hit. This isn’t the first player to have this problem while on the Trojans team; basketball player O.J. Mayo also received gifts from agents during his stay at USC.
With the loss of 30 football scholarships over the next three years and the inability to compete in any bowls during the 2010-2011 seasons, USC should take this time to rebuild the image of its sports program by promising to obey the NCAA’s rules. However, I don’t think it is necessary for them to pretend as though Bush was never a Trojan. USC filed for an appeal of some of the sanctions, but it doesn’t appear likely that they will win. Moving forward is really their only option now and showing respect to the NCAA by learning from this incident.
Do you agree with the PR decisions made? If not, what should they have done differently?