After nearly two controversial decades, the Heisman Trophy Trust elected to return the 2005 trophy to former USC running back Reggie Bush on Wednesday. In doing so, the organization recognized a rapidly shifting college athletics landscape and the vastly different lens through which Bush’s past conduct is now understood.

After earning 2,611 all-purpose yards and 18 touchdowns in his 2005 junior season at USC, no one could have denied that Bush was the best player in college football. The Heisman was the title that affirmed his immense stature, but years after the fact, it was stripped away.

Following an NCAA investigation that dragged on for years, the organization concluded that Bush and his family accepted gifts to play for USC. At the time, any amount of money for an amateur athlete was seen as a mortal sin. Bush lost his Heisman Trophy in 2010 and the Trojans faced severe sanctions, as the NCAA barred them from bowl games for two seasons and vacated their 2004 national championship.

Since the scandal’s earliest days, Bush has had intense supporters who felt that the punishment was too severe. In the NIL era, however, his punishment has become trivial.

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Though it is unclear exactly how much Bush received in money and gifts as a collegiate athlete, the number undoubtedly pales in comparison to the amount college athletes of his caliber make legally under the NCAA’s new regulations. After several years of intense clamoring, the Heisman Trophy Trust finally took this change in perception into account.

“We considered the enormous changes in college athletics over the last several years in deciding that now is the right time to reinstate the Trophy for Reggie,” Heisman Trophy Trust President Michael Comerford said. “We are so happy to welcome him back.”

Bush posted a photo of his trophy on social media with a seemingly celebratory message.

“No one can take from you what God has for you,” Bush said.

For years, people have pointed to Bush’s case as profoundly unfair, one in which a young man was punished for the inner workings of a system well beyond his control. In some ways, his punishment planted the seeds for the recent movement in support of college athletes’ rights. It appears that the return of his Heisman Trophy is an attempt to finally make things right.

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