For any athlete, joining a different team means embarking on a new journey. Skills, personality, team chemistry, and identity are just some of the aspects that determine their place in the team. Much is the case for “star players”, a term coined for athletes with immense popularity and superb performances. Great expectations are placed on their shoulders and whether they can meet them or not is a testament to their value.
With the glitz and grind players bring, stellar athletes come at a price. Athletes that compete at a higher level are usually compensated with higher salaries, bigger benefits, and better services. This is especially true in popular sports that are backed up by big-name investors, an all-too-familiar scene in Philippine collegiate basketball.
Ever since the inception of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP), student-athletes are given incentives, such as scholarships that contain fixed allowances and benefits, to persuade them to play for competing universities—with basketball players in the men’s division receiving most of the cut due to the sport’s popularity. As collegiate basketball players have reached celebrity status while amassing followers and brand deals, universities are pushed to revamp their scholarship offerings to provide more to their student-athletes.
The challenge now in recruiting the best college athletes is a matter of who can give the best benefits. This separates the playing field, as universities with an abundance of funds and assets are at an advantage. The UAAP Board of Trustees has since added a cap to student-athletes’ allowances and benefits at the start of Season 85, aiming to push student-athletes to choose a university based on its sports or academic program, not its extraordinary scholarship packages.
Green Archers’ star guard Schonny Winston is now at the forefront of the discussion on the treatment of athletes, with his last year of eligibility ending in turmoil with La Salle management after an up-and-down season. His departure has caused a divide among the Lasallian community, with one side appealing to his sentiments regarding his untimely calf injury and another believing he did not give his best efforts in recovering.
Winston initially got injured during the dying minutes of DLSU’s overtime loss to Adamson last October 22. Initial releases said that he suffered a calf strain, but it was only after the team’s Season 85 campaign ended when it was disclosed that it was actually a gastrocnemius tear or multiple tears in his calf. From that point until the Taft-based squad’s early elimination, the once MVP-frontrunner had merely appeared in the last three preliminary games, checking in just for a few seconds each—which I believe he did to reach at least 10 games played for the season, a part of the MVP criteria.
On the day of La Salle and Adamson’s playoff game for the fourth seed, Winston was barred from joining the team—even after the star guard was getting ready for the game and was expecting to play for extended minutes. Instead, he and his father watched and supported the team from the stands, with the La Salle standout not being allowed on the team bench.
The once-proclaimed “King Archer” was then cursed out by a La Salle official for entering the locker room after the loss. The incident was the final blow in a disappointing Season 85 campaign that saw fans’ expectations and the Winston-La Salle management affair come crashing down.
As of writing, no official statement has been released by any DLSU official regarding the matter. The La Salle faithful, including myself, have relied on word of mouth and sparse reports that Winston was asking for more compensation or that the team felt that he wasn’t trying hard enough to return to serve as an answer as to why management did what they did.
It is evident that DLSU management would much rather resolve the issue in private. With limited information being released by media outlets, who knows what route the issue has taken? Winston was a blue chip recruit who previously played for Division 1 schools in the United States and won the hearts of many with his charm. I wouldn’t blame the higher-ups if they chose to negotiate with the student-athlete to silence the situation.
On the other hand, answers to allegations on whether or not he gave his all can only be answered by Winston himself. But one thing is for sure though, the lack of transparency between Winston and management has become the scapegoat for the team’s tragic finish to the season. Riddled by injuries and inconsistencies, along with several changes in the team’s playbook and rotations, Winston’s toss up with the management culminates the multiple instances of obscurity within the current La Salle system this season. This was the trend during the campaign; despite how talented the team was with championship projections, their individualistic tendencies made for a lack of chemistry.
For a team to perform properly, everyone must do what is expected of them while being on the same page. Season 85 saw different Green Archers top individual statistical categories, but it begs the question: With how stacked they were on paper, why didn’t the team at least reach the Final Four? As the Green and White pick themselves back up, I believe that they must realize that there comes a time when playing for the name in front of their jerseys matters more than the one behind.