LOS ANGELES — On a sparkling corner rooftop of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, former USC star Reggie Bush stood at a podium in front of the media on Wednesday morning and pointed down below – down to the Coliseum seats where red-and-gold banners commemorate the numbers of USC’s Heisman Trophy winners.
Down, specifically, to the wide space empty for Bush’s No. 5, the number that birthed Trojan greatness and fame before nearly two decades of legislative battles with the NCAA and Bush’s Heisman being stripped over allegations of accepting improper benefits.
“I got dreams of walking back in here, seeing my jersey, my banner right down there next to the rest of the Heisman Trophy winners,” Bush said at a Wednesday press conference.
“But I can’t rightfully do that,” he continued, “without my Heisman Trophy.”
On Wednesday morning, Bush filed a defamation lawsuit against the NCAA in Indiana’s Marion Superior Court seeking to “hold the NCAA accountable for maliciously attacking the character of Mr. Bush,” the complaint read. Bush’s counsel – Levi G. McCathern and Ben Crump – confirmed Wednesday that the suit hinged on a statement given by the NCAA to media in July 2021 that asserted Bush’s collegiate records wouldn’t be restored due to a “pay-for-play arrangement.”
That “pay-for-play” designation hinges on the NCAA’s investigation into Bush, built on testimony from Lloyd Lake, who alleged Bush had accepted thousands of dollars in cash and benefits across a star-studded career as a running back at USC. On Wednesday, McCathern charged that “the violations they found were based on shoddy evidence of sloppy investigation.”
“Terrible work by the NCAA,” McCathern said. “Were very marginal violations at best. It’s things like, loaning money for Reggie to fix his car. Allowing Reggie to change clothes before a Doak Walker ceremony.”
“Their investigation,” McCathern continued, “were based on the testimony of a man whose testimony is dubious at best.”
When asked by a reporter about critics who supported the “pay-for-play” designation because of longstanding reports Bush was gifted money to purchase a car, Bush responded, “That was never part of the NCAA report … my parents were never even interviewed by the NCAA.”
The Southern California News Group sent an inquiry to the NCAA on Wednesday morning asking for comment on Bush’s lawsuit.
Bush has also filed a petition to the NCAA, his counsel announced, to reconsider the Committee on Infraction’s decision to vacate Bush’s personal records and wins of USC’s football team.
“USC joins in this Petition insofar as its participation is required to overcome any standing issue … USC defers to Bush and undersigned counsel for the substance of the Petition,” the petition reads, the university’s sign-off confirmed by Bush’s counsel Wednesday.
Across 25 minutes in Wednesday’s press conference, Bush and his attorneys rebuked and rebutted a host of topics related to the lawsuit: what they called “misconception” that Bush was paid to play football at USC and the NCAA’s refusal to budge on Bush’s decision even under the legalization of name, image and likeness profits for college athletes.
“The NCAA cannot continue this plantation mentality, and continue to treat amateur athletes as indentured servants, profiting off their likeness and their performances,” noted civil rights attorney Crump announced in booming voice.
Bush, the lawsuit reads, demands “presumed and compensatory damages to be established at trial,” “punitive damages,” “prejudgment and post-judgment interest at the maximum rate allowed by law,” and a trial by jury. His attorneys said there’s no timeline for the lawsuit, but hoped the infractions committee had a decision on the petition by the end of the college football season.
As Bush and his team expounded and expunged the merits of his character, crews at the Coliseum tended to the grass, readying for USC’s first football game Saturday against San Jose State.
“We expect that jersey to be up there soon,” McCathern said. “Because, as we know, USC has the power to put it up for the game on Saturday … as far as promise? No. No one has given us promise of anything we’re asking for.”
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