At the center of the recent Schonny Winston-DLSU controversy is the topic of injury recovery. What does it entail for a player to return to action safely?
The Schonny Winston saga boils down to this: Was the Fil-Am guard ready to play again after his calf injury?
The De La Salle brass seem to think so. Winston and his team felt otherwise.
The issue highlights the fickle nature of sports injuries—and the almost unfair expectations many fans and teams often have on injured athletes. For the most part, injured athletes are expected to be back in action after their injury heals.
What happened with Winston?
The problem is, “healed” is not the same as “ready to play.” A player can be healed of their injury and even cleared to practice but not necessarily be fit to return to competitive action. This apparently was the case with Winston, whom DLSU management allege had been cleared for full contact practice—and, therefore, should have been good to go against the Soaring Falcons.
Winston was apparently willing to give it a go but was barred by DLSU officials for allegedly not trying hard enough to get back to action. The two-guard disputes this, tweeting how he had been trying to recover from the injury—evidently a torn calf rather than just a strained one.
Regardless, Winston’s calf injury was severe enough that he was sidelined pretty much the entire second round. But muscle injuries—like a calf strain or tear—are harder to navigate. Move the muscle too soon and the injury can either worsen or reoccur. A calf strain, in particular, can take anywhere from three days to six weeks before the muscle fully heals, according to the Orthopedic Center for Sports Medicine. That would jive with Winston’s likely recovery timetable since he sustained his injury in an October 22 matchup against Adamson, which was the team that ended their Final Four aspirations, ironically.
There is a slight complication. Winston made a curious cameo in DLSU’s second round win on November 23 against NU. This suggests Winston was ramping up his recovery four weeks after his injury, and it could have been counterproductive—especially if the injury really was a tear.
The Case of Jumpin’ Japeth
Winston’s calf injury calls to mind the one sustained by Barangay Ginebra’s Japeth Aguilar in the 2021 Governor’s Cup. Aguilar’s injury, a grade 2 calf strain, sidelined him for the last two games of the Gin Kings’ semis duel versus NLEX and the first three games of the Finals—a total of five games in three weeks. He returned in Game 4 of the Finals, only to tweak that calf again.
Aguilar played the rest of the Finals on limited playing time. Two months later, Aguilar admitted that the same calf was still bothering him, and that he had been taking extra precautions with the muscle, for fear of reinjuring it. Such is a common scenario with calf injuries and in muscle injuries in general. And it might explain why Winston was either not fully ready to compete again or was having second thoughts.
A Larger Point
This is not to say who was wrong and who was right. It might even be that both DLSU and Winston were in the wrong. Regardless, there is a larger point here: The road to recovery after an injury is never easy and straightforward. There are just too many moving parts, too many unknown variables, too much unpredictability.
A setback is not uncommon in these situations. It could be the recurrence of pain. It could be discomfort. It could be anything. But that is just on the physical side. There is also the mental side of it where the recovering athlete needs to hurdle a few common “mental blocks” like negativism, frustration, and fear of reinjury, says sports psychologist Dr. Matthew Sacco. At times, hurdling these obstacles is just as hard as overcoming the physical challenges.
Put simply, players trying to make their way back after an injury need leeway and time because the process is challenging. It is draining. It is complicated. That is, unless the player is not taking their recovery seriously. Now that is another matter.