In the days after the resignation of IU football coach Kevin Wilson, several players described a culture of fear.
Players said they were pressured to play through injuries, such as blood clots and bulging discs. They said their requests for treatment were not only ignored but met with jabs such as, “Stop being a pussy.” Those who suffered injuries, players agreed, became damaged goods.
These players knew what they were getting into when they signed up to play Division I football, but they didn’t sign up for abuse. IU Athletics did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story.
The morning after a fall 2012 game, Bernard Taylor woke up from a surgery in Carmel, Indiana, an hour away from campus. He was alone.
The nurse asked who was coming to pick him up. He said he didn’t know. She tried to get in touch with his trainers. No response.
The former starting offensive lineman, then only a sophomore, hoped to have a dislocated lunate bone in his left wrist repaired. It stemmed from an earlier knuckle injury his trainers had told him not to worry about and his coaches had blamed him for having. It was an injury that began a two-year stretch of shame and denial from Wilson’s staff.
Taylor was a major contributor during Wilson’s first IU season in 2011. He started 10 games at left guard during his freshman season and the first six games of his sophomore season. In the spring of his freshman year, he injured his left ring finger and told the trainers.
Taylor said the trainers did not give him an in-depth examination and told him it was a sprained finger. They told him not to worry about it – the pain would go away.
The pain continued from there. After Taylor complained further, his trainers finally sent him to have an MRI on his knuckle.
The MRI found he had a hole in his knuckle. Taylor said IU handled it by putting a splint on, which held his pinky and ring fingers together and traveled down the length of his hand ending at the tip of his lunate bone in his wrist. He then dislocated that lunate bone. Taylor said the dislocation came from a lack of mobility from the splint. The surgery in Carmel came the next morning.
During another season, former player Laray Smith said he was told by trainers he had a back bruise. Doctors disagreed and told Smith he had a blood clot in his back. Wilson still pressured him to play. Smith played the game. To this day, he said he wishes he hadn’t.
One former player, who asked to be anonymous, from Wilson’s first season said trainers were scared to tell Wilson of injuries because he would “cuss them out.” Wilson would then go and cuss the player out for reporting it.
Former defensive lineman Nick Carovillano said trainers ignored his requests for treatment and told him to “stop being a pussy.” It was eventually discovered by doctors that Carovillano had herniated discs. His father, Dean, said Carovillano could hardly walk.
Former receiver Dominique Booth told WTHR he was put through a challenging workout despite his concussion. When he got home he vomited and suffered residual concussion symptoms for three months, he said.
Not all football players had the same experiences. Many current and former IU players and staff members, including Peyton Eckert, Ralston Evans and Nate Sudfeld, went out of their way to defend Wilson.
Eckert, a former offensive lineman who played in 24 games at IU, missed his junior season with a back injury. He said Wilson and offensive line coach Greg Frey would constantly check on his status and watch out for his well-being.
“When they brought it up, and I said how great I felt through the pain, they told me that my life after football should mean just as much to me as getting back on the field,” he told the IDS.
Elliott Wratten spent seven seasons with IU as a student assistant and graduate assistant and now coaches at Alcorn State. He said he never witnessed or heard of any of these claims in his time, and Wilson always taught coaches and players never to question the trainer.
“We spent a lot of time talking about making sure nothing like that happens,” Wratten said.
Wratten also said many of the players who complained of abuse might have done other things to have problems with Wilson.
When Bernard Taylor returned from his surgery, he said he wasn’t greeted with concern but attempts to shame him. Offensive line coach Greg Frey told him he broke his wrist because he used bad technique, Taylor said.
Coaches played the injury film clip to Taylor over and over again.
“You guys left me at the hospital, and now you want to tell me the reason I’m injured is because of bad technique,” Taylor said. “Bad technique by the trainer, for sure.”
Smith, Carovillano and Taylor all agreed that once injured, their coaches didn’t care about them. Injured players weren’t allowed to leave the field until every other player had. They couldn’t be in the dining room first. Taylor said players were often told injuries were their fault.
Wilson and Frey often put him down, Taylor said. He said at one point Frey didn’t speak to him for a month and would put him down in front of the entire team.
“It was a constant psychological mind game that followed me all the way through the end of senior year,” he said.
Taylor had surgery at the end of his sophomore year to repair his knuckle, but he didn’t heal correctly. Trainers issued him pain pads and 800 milligrams of Ibuprofen before practice. Before games, they gave him anti-inflammatory nasal inhalants and cortisone injections to deal with the pain.
After Taylor’s junior season, he discovered he was on the verge of losing the lunate bone in his wrist due to a lack of blood flow. Doctors fused all eight bones in his wrist and replaced the knuckle.
Taylor wanted to sit out his senior year with a medical redshirt and come back healthy the next year. He said he did not feel mentally or physically recovered yet.
Wilson denied his request and told Taylor in a one-on-one meeting he wouldn’t allow the redshirt because he didn’t think Taylor cared enough to come back and play.
Taylor shared his feelings with Frey and trainer Craig Tweedy, who Taylor said “shrugged it off” and suggested other ways to get him on the field.
Tweedy also declined to comment, but he provided this short statement:
“I have respect for the Indiana University medical staff, student-athletes and Coach Wilson, and I have no comment.”
Taylor said he couldn’t bend his wrist but was still used to fill in for starters.
He said people who sign up to play football know what they’re getting into. They know they might roll an ankle, break a bone or get injured in some other way. He didn’t expect to finish his career with a replaced knuckle and a fused wrist at 22. He said he wishes he had just paid for college.
“I’m all for the saying, ‘If you can play, play,’ but I clearly wasn’t,” he said. “Being injured isn’t about being soft. It’s about being smart.”
Jordan Guskey contributed reporting