Johnny Manziel is distancing himself from the Heisman Trophy until former USC star Reggie Bush is reinstated.

Bush, the 2005 Heisman winner who was stripped of his trophy after the NCAA determined that he and family members accepted impermissible benefits while he was a student-athlete, was asked by the Heisman Trust last year to solicit former winners signing off on his award being returned to him. He said he wouldn’t do it, and it’s looking now like he won’t need to. Former winners are standing up and voicing support for him on their own.

“After careful thought and consideration, I will be humbly removing myself from the Heisman trophy ceremony until Reggie Bush
gets his trophy back,” Manziel said in a tweet on Saturday. “Doesn’t sit right with my morals and values that he can’t be on that stage with us every year. Reggie IS the Heisman trophy. Do the RIGHT thing NCAA. The ball is in your court.”

In a recent interview with Shannon Sharpe, Manziel said there was “chatter” going around not just from him but others within the Hsieman fraternity that Bush’s treatment has been unduly harsh.

Bush forfeited the trophy in 2010 after a 4-year extra-benefits investigation into his time with the Trojans. He was part of national championship teams in 2003 and 2004, then won the Heisman in 2005 after helping USC to a 12-1 record and a near three-peat.

As part of the fallout from the investigation, USC vacated 14 wins between the 2004 and 2005 seasons in addition to Bush’s records. The school was also forced to disassociate with the tailback.

Once name, image, and likeness legislation passed in 2021, ESPN and several other outlets asked the NCAA about Bush’s records and participation being restored. In a response, the NCAA suggested Bush engaged in a “pay-for-play” arrangement during his time at USC. That led Bush to file a defamation suit against the NCAA in August of 2023.

“They (the NCAA) have paid $8 million in a defamation character lawsuit already to settle that and to sweep that under the rug,” Bush said last December when he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. “That lawsuit directly relates to me because the only way they can penalize USC is through Todd McNair, my former running back coach. If that never happens, they never penalize us because they had no evidence against us.”

The Heisman Trust has told Bush he won’t be eligible to have his trophy returned until the NCAA reinstates him. And though Bush says the NCAA has never charged him individually in the infractions case against USC, the NCAA has yet to move to reinstate him.

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Bush is one of the most popular and influential players in college football history. With Manziel very publicly backing him, it’ll be interesting to see if other Heisman winners choose to follow suit. Bush has no shortage of friends among Heisman winners.

And his gripe with the NCAA is a legitimate one. The thing that once disgraced Bush is now legal.

To make matters worse for the NCAA, it just lost a significant court battle eroding its ability to hand down any punishments for NIL inducements during the recruitment process.

On Friday, in a letter sent to member schools by NCAA president Charlie Baker, the organization said it was temporarily pausing existing investigations and would not open new ones into NIL-based recruiting violations. Last week, a district judge sided with the attorneys general from Tennessee and Virginia, ruling that the NCAA was violating antitrust law by prohibiting collectives from discussing NIL deals with prospective student-athletes during the recruiting process.

In his letter, Baker said the temporary pause will apply across the Division 1 landscape.

For the NCAA to continue to punish Bush for something it has no authority to police any longer would be a misstep. For an organization that needs any kind of goodwill it can scrounge together, reinstating Bush and paving the way for his Heisman to be returned seems like a winning proposition.