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Simon Cvijanovic hopes injury settlement with Illinois inspires others to take action

CHICAGO -- Simon Cvijanovic hopes his recent settlement with the University of Illinois causes other college football players to take action if they think their health has been mismanaged.

Cvijanovic, a former Illinois offensive lineman, will receive $250,000 from the school to compensate for injuries and medical expenses he sustained while playing there. He wants to start a nonprofit organization to advocate for players in similar situations.

His series of Twitter posts in 2015 sparked an investigation at Illinois that led to the dismissals of football coach Tim Beckman and athletic director Mike Thomas.

"This is so much bigger than me," Cvijanvoic said Thursday during a news conference at the office of his Chicago-based attorneys. "This problem is still a problem nationwide, one that needs to be adjusted.

"I'm happy that people are paying attention to those issues on a much higher level. I hope that this story inspires others to use their voices as well. If anything, watching me do what I've done, other players will be able to stand up and say that they're worthy."

Cvijanvoic has received many messages from college athletes who believe their health was compromised, and he plans to respond to them now that his settlement with Illinois has been finalized. He underwent left knee surgery and two shoulder surgeries since graduating from Illinois, and he will need surgery on his right knee because of arthritis.

He had alleged that Beckman forced him to play through shoulder and knee injuries in 2013 and 2014.

Illinois fired Beckman a week before the 2015 season, after releasing preliminary findings from a university-commissioned investigation.

"I'm very happy that there's a little bit of a [financial] cushion and I'm not panicking about how those things are going to get taken care of," Cvijanvoic said Thursday. "I hope that it can become the situation for all athletes."

Although Cvijanvoic has had no contact with anyone at Illinois -- settlement talks with the school began about a year ago, attorney Dan Kotin said -- he would welcome the opportunity to reconnect with his alma mater. He thinks Illinois' admission of wrongdoing and the disciplinary actions the school took set an important precedent in college athletics.

"There's specific schools, there's people who have told me their situations that are very similar," Cvijanvoic said. "Each team runs their program so different that you can't really figure out what happened to somebody unless you get into a full-blown conversation with them. It's been hard knowing that there's lots of people out there struggling, but that's also fueled the fire for me getting this wrapped up and get back to helping people."

Cvijanvoic and his attorneys referred to a "broken system" in college athletics, which Cvijanvoic believes can only be repaired if athletes have representation to advocate for them, ideally through unionization. He said he first wanted to seek representation but struggled to generate support from his former Illinois teammates, some of whom had labeled him "a quitter."

He thinks it will take more athletes to speak out and greater public support to create sustainable change. This summer, Cvijanovic, now an artist living in Los Angeles, will have an art show largely about his experience at Illinois.

"Simon Cvijanovic took tremendous risk personally and professionally to expose a broken system in college athletics," Kotin said. "And I think changes are starting to happen. ... We hope that his personal story has been answered and that his needs are going to be taken care of, but his work is not done."