Simon Cvijanovic says he hopes his story starts a conversation about college football and the culture which says to play tough, and never admit you’re hurt.
“Yeah,” he said. “It’s something that I strongly feel is an infection in our society.”
Thursday morning, Cvijanovic announced he had reached a $250,000 settlement with the University of Illinois, to help cover medical expenses for injuries he received as a player, following his complaints that he was a victim of a culture of “abuse and mistreatment”. In the Spring of 2015, Cvijanovic accused then-coach Tim Beckman of pushing injured athletes to continue playing, contending his own injuries were mishandled to the extent that his hopes of an NFL career were dashed.
“We don’t talk about how we’re mistreated because then we’re not a team player or soft,” he tweeted at the time. “But no one pays the bill when we’re gone.”
After Cvijanovic and others came forward, Illinois mounted a formal investigation, eventually firing both Beckman and athletic director Mike Thomas.
“The line between aggressive coaching and inappropriate influence regarding medical decisions may be difficult to define precisely, but it was clearly and systematically crossed under Coach Beckman’s leadership,” the investigators found, stating that Beckman was guilty of “building a culture that tended to blame players for being injured.”
“He pushed players and athletic trainers beyond reasonable limits,” the report stated, and “discouraged student athletes from seeking assistance from sports medicine personnel.”
While Cvijanovic does not minimize his 2015 decision to speak out, he insists he did not do so out of anger.
“It was a realization that a change needed to happen,” he said. “So many told me I was family and that they would always be there, and then as soon as you can’t do it because of your physical injuries, they’re not!”
Cvijanovic’s attorney Daniel Kotin called him a hero.
“The system as we knew it was broken,” he said. “The only way the system can be fixed was to expose what’s broken, and the only way to expose what’s broken in college athletics is from the inside.”
For Cvijanovic, speaking out meant going against a football culture he had been a part of since grade school.
“It is a regimented track and getting young men to go down this path of being an athlete until they realize that they can’t forever,” he said. “I have a lot of friends from high school who stopped playing sophomore year of high school but still have physical injuries, but have the mentality of the need to win by punching through it.”
And even though he had been a part of the game since he was a child, Cvijanovic says he is taken aback when parents thank him now for taking a stand which will make the game safer.
“Well they’re still in that sport,” he said. “And nothing’s really changed unless they understand how much they’re worth.”
As far as the game itself, the former Illini lineman said he hopes a day comes where football changes from “fullbacks running full speed at a linebacker.”
“It’s ridiculous, there’s no need for that,” he said. “People who need that in their life as entertainment have issues.”