Simon Cvijanovic has made some pretty harsh allegations over the past two days about the Illinois football program on Twitter.
Monday, he took to the airwaves to expand on the 140-character comments he's made, comments that have accused head coach Tim Beckman of being an abusive bully who mistreats his players, threatens to take away their scholarships and vilifies them for being injured.
Cvijanovic joined Lon Tay and Jeremy Werner on ESPN 93.5 in Champaign and spoke further about the accusations he's been making on social media and why he chose to speak out now.
“It’s really hard for people who aren’t in the system to understand how the propaganda of team and family and all that stuff, it’s not real,” Cvijanovic told the hosts. “You don’t realize that until after you’re out of the system, that it’s not real, that those things are just holding you back, holding your voice back. For so long, I’ve had a lot to say. And a lot of other players have had a lot to say, and I’ve heard a lot from other players. But it’s just hurt me even more hearing those stories and knowing how bad I want to speak out. I had to go and find some help, and there is none. There’s no one that will speak for you, there’s no one that’s going to vouch on behalf of the student athlete.
“There’s guys on the team that are bullies and are also terrified of what coach Beckman might do to their scholarship or their leadership status or their draft stock, so of course they’re going to follow blindly and do whatever he says. I was the same way my last year there. I hurt a lot of guys, and I had to apologize to a lot of guys outside of football. It was hard for me to come to terms with the fact that all these things happened to me and then reorganize my thoughts and say, ‘This is going to happen to more people unless I stand up and do something.’”
[MORE BIG TEN: Ex-Illini OL Simon Cvijanovic blasts Tim Beckman on Twitter]
Cvijanovic has accused Beckman, his coaching staff and his medical staff of lying about surgical procedures, forcing him to play while injured, telling him to stop taking medication and demonizing him for refusing to play hurt.
Monday, he expanded on his departure from the program and his view of the culture Beckman has created.
“I left the team because I was being accused of making up pain," Cvijanovic said. "I was being accused of lying about pain in my knee even though they know how much debilitating surgery they did to it. And they knew how many reps I’d taken, I took more reps than any player on the field at that point. And it’s really, really disheartening to be disrespected like that.
“There’s a lot on a student athlete’s plate in one day. There’s a lot that we need to take care of, especially when Beckman harps on us the way he does about grades. We have to be on top of our stuff. We don’t have time to worry about our own bodies, especially when we’re told that our bodies being hurt isn’t real, when we’re told that when you’re hurt, you’re the enemy by wearing a purple jersey. That all plays into the propaganda that, ‘You’re not a person, you’re a teammate. And what you do is only for the team, and you shouldn’t ever act on what you think is right but what the team is thinking right.’
“There’s some guys who are not on the team anymore who are even afraid of not getting their diploma from the university. It’s gotten that far. The fear is that deep. It’s clear that there’s an issue. Every player should’ve said something to tell me to shut up by now if they really believe that it’s not an issue.”
[MORE BIG TEN: In report, ex-Illini Cvijanovic details Beckman accusations]
Cvijanovic’s tweets continued Monday, and in one — which was promptly deleted — he compared Beckman to North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.
When asked about that in the radio interview, Cvijanovic stood by that comparison.
“The Kim Jong-un comment I think is very fitting,” he said. “If you put world leaders next to college football coaches, Tim Beckman is running a propaganda-ridden football program. There’s a player manual as thick as a phone book the first year he came, and we went through the whole thing.
“I’m relating it to the propaganda and the fact that they don’t see how bad they’re being treated. They do see, and they just don’t want to speak up and they’re afraid. Obviously we’re not afraid of being put in prison camps or something, but is a fear nonetheless and it is abuse nonetheless.”
[MORE BIG TEN: Illini AD Mike Thomas responds to Simon Cvijanovic's claims]
During the interview, Cvijanovic said that athletics director Mike Thomas doesn’t care about the situation and that after meeting with a dean at the university, he never heard back, which prompted him to start this conversation on Twitter instead of through other channels.
It’s for this reason he also brought up the topic of unionization, an issue that’s been a talking point in college football for more than a year ever since former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter’s failed attempt to unionize the players at Northwestern. Cvijanovic said that there’s no voice for a student athlete, echoing the criticisms he made of the NCAA on Sunday.
One of the things Colter was fighting for more than a year ago was better medical treatment, and if Cvijanovic’s claims are true, certainly he’s a sad example of what Colter was talking about.
“I have disabilities now. I have chronic knee pain, and that’s a disability,” he said. “I limp, I limp around. I should have that be taken care of with worker’s compensation for the rest of my life. That’s how it works in the real world. Why because I chose to play football do I get screwed?”
But in the end, the culture of the program was Cvijanovic’s main target, and he implicated the entire university in allowing Beckman to carry on in the fashion Cvijanovic claims.
“Right now, they seem to not care that they have an abusive coach.”