Former NFL player Reggie Bush is suing the NCAA for defamation

August 25, 2023
Reggie Bush (former NFL football player and current Wendy’s star) is suing the NCAA for defamation.
Sports BusinessGeneral

The GIST: Reggie Bush (former NFL football player and current Wendy’s star) is suing the NCAA for defamation. While the case may represent a personal pursuit for redemption, it also has the potential to set a huge precedent by finally defining NIL vs. pay-for-play.

The background: Bush was a USC running back (RB) in the early 2000s, winning two national titles and the Heisman Trophy. He played 11 seasons in the NFL and became a Super Bowl champion with the New Orleans Saints in 2010.

  • Following his Heisman win, Yahoo Sports released multiple reports about financial benefits Bush and his family received during his college career, including his parents living rent-free in a house owned by a sports agent who was heavily recruiting Bush as a client.
  • In 2010, the NCAA found that Bush received improper gifts and benefits from agents starting in 2004 and imposed harsh sanctions on USC. The school was forced to disassociate itself from Bush and vacate 14 wins, including its 2004-05 national championship. And later that year, the RB had to return his Heisman Trophy.

The suit: But Bush continues to Fight On. On Wednesday, he filed a defamation lawsuit against the NCAA, claiming the organization “maliciously attacked” his character. The college sports org released a statement in 2021 addressing the possibility of restoring Bush’s records following the new name, image, and likeness (NIL) rules, but ultimately said that “NCAA rules still do not permit pay-for-play type arrangements."

  • Bush asserts the benefits he received would be allowed in today’s NIL space and the NCAA’s claim that he participated in pay-for-play benefits defamed his character. Presumably, the suit is less about money and more about utilizing new NIL rules and the lawsuit’s media coverage to campaign for the return of his Heisman.

The implications: The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that the main focal point of the case is the difference between NIL and pay-for-play. The lack of NIL regulation has been criticized since its inception and defining this important distinction could help clear the air. Gotta keep ‘em separated.

  • Whether Bush gets a win in or out of court, the precedent set will undoubtedly inspire former college athletes in similar situations to pursue legal action. But what would that mean for the current athletes and brands trying to navigate the ever-changing NIL space? We’ll have to wait and follow the case to find out. What, like it’s hard?