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Why food is a sensitive topic for student-athletes

When former University of Santo Tomas captain CJ Cansino leaked the Growling Tigers’ group chat with their parents, his goal was to raise awareness about the situation he and the team had inside the “Bicol bubble” over the last two months.

But the 20-year-old did not expect the firestorm it caused.

Cansino, who as skipper took the initiative to connect the parents and guardians to their sons, had this opening line:

“Hindi po namin nagugustuhan yung food dito at konti lang kasi kaya yung iba sa amin, nag-oorder ng fast food,” said Cansino in the since-deleted post.

“Kaso ang problema nagkasakit yung iba sa amin [tapos] sa amin sinisisi kung bakit kami nagkakasakit. Pero sa tingin namin dahil sa luto nila dahil puro pork at mamantika.”

Instead of reading the rest of the thread, athletes zoned in on those lines, ignoring the bigger picture.

No, it is not a propaganda campaign to smear Cansino nor the Growling Tigers. As petty as it seems, it legitimately struck the nerve of some student-athletes.

“You have to understand, not all PBA players come from the UAAP or the NCAA,” said a professional head coach, who requested anonymity.

What do they eat during their times in college? They chip-in so that everyone can eat.”

The reaction of the players can be divided into the haves and the have-nots.

“Galunggong, kanin, at toyo lang tapos sabaw, solve na!” read FEU product Leo Avenido’s Facebook post.

“Aarte niyo!”

PSBA product Vic Manuel shared: “For me, buti nga may nakakain pa kayo. Nung college ako halos kulang talaga kami sa food at allowance.”

“Bakit ganun my nagrereklamo tungkol sa ulam nila? Dapat magpapasalamat nalang tayo kasi meron tayong kinakain,” read Arellano’s Jio Jalalon’s post. “Buti nga kayo nakakain pa kayo ng masarap na ulam eh nung college nga ako chicharon na anim na piso, inasal na tag piso lang ‘yung ulam namin at Angel’s Burger na buy one, take one. Walang reklamo reklamo!”

“Kinukuha ko pa libreng meal ko sa Letran para pakain ko sa buong pamilya ko,” shared Letran’s Jerrick Balanza. “Walang angal angal!”

Even Cansino’s new head coach in University of the Philippines Bo Perasol knows this.

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When he was tapped to be the head coach of the Fighting Maroons back in 2015, the first thing he got was a backer who would supply them with food.

“Yung mga post-game meal, kailangan maayos yan. Hindi kailangan mahal, pero dapat akma sa kailangan nila. May nutritionist din kami para mabantayan din yun,” Perasol said.

“There was a time na Chooks-to-Go ang sponsor natin, araw-araw, manok ang ulam namin. Nagpapasalamat kami, siyempre, kasi at least meron na. Masarap ang Chooks talaga, excited kami kasi Chooks yun. Kaya lang kung araw-araw ganun, magsasawa pa rin naman sila. Pero again, at that time, nagpapasalamat kami.”

Proper nutrition has become a part of the athletics program of some blue-blood schools.

Take for example National University.

“Very important ang tamang pagkain, especially for athletes. Kailangan ng guidance ngayon sa pagkain ang mga player lalo. Iba na rin kasi yung influx ng mga low-quality food options,” said strength and conditioning coach Luis De Mesa of the NU Bulldogs.

“Konting fluctuations lang with weight may effect na ‘yun. Quality food also helps in recovery.”

But then again, not all student-athletes are given this privilege.

“Food is food. You can’t choose since, for others, they have no other option.”

Though that conversation brought back memories for some and created a discourse regarding the different situations of each program, the real issue remains — UST’s alleged Bicol bubble.

In the first place, why are they away from their families in a time of a pandemic?

La Salle’s Willie Wilson said, “It’s only normal that when you hear about the experiences of today’s college players you’ll compare them to your own. There isn’t anything wrong with that. I’ve done it many times. I always felt that the natural order of things is to improve and leave the game better.

“So when college players are receiving better treatment today than during my time, I take that as a sign that I did my part to make the game better. Just because I took a certain route to arrive at my destination and you wanna arrive at the same place, doesn’t mean you have to travel my route. There are many different routes to take,” he continued, to which Ateneo’s Nico Salva concurred.

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“No offense to these guys but please don’t make the players look bad. They were mistreated, yun yung puno’t dulo. I understand where they are coming from and saludo ako sa inyo, in a way naranasan ko rin yan, pero if they can provide better food bakit hindi?,” opined Mocon.

“They expected more. They deserved better.”

But just like in Fight Club, the first unwritten rule for all student-athletes is you do not talk about food.

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