There really aren’t many silver linings when your season ends as a result of an injury but at least Jimmy Garoppolo and Jerick McKinnon will have each other throughout the process. Both 49ers offensive starters will be rehabilitating their surgically repaired ACLs together. McKinnon obviously has a few weeks head start but it was the one positive that Kyle Shanahan pointed out to his injured quarterback on the way back from Kansas City.
“Yeah, definitely. That’s the only good news that Jimmy and I could talk about on the plane. At least he’s got a buddy to go through it with. Unfortunately, both of them are going through it. But, they’re both in the same boat. I know Jerick, I think, texted him and sent him a picture of his knee right after the game. Just said, ‘Looking forward to having a wingman,’ or something. They can talk a lot about it with each other. They can keep each other up, help each other when each other are down, but those are two very important players, they were for us to start out this year. Now, they’re not going to be a part of it. We know they’re going to be around and involved in a lot of stuff, but I really look forward to having both of them next year.”
While this may seem like a little thing, it’s huge to players who have participated in team sports for the majority of their lives. Many athletes express feelings of depression and loneliness as a result of the isolation from their teammates/brothers. Upon his return to the team, Malcolm Smith said rehabbing his torn pectoral was one of the toughest things he has been through in his career. It can leave players feeling like they've let their teammates and fanbases down because they are unable to contribute as they would have liked to. They are working just as hard to recover, sometimes harder, without the gratification of helping their team get a win. Some players end up feeling helpless.
Last offseason, the Washington Post interviewed four Washington players who had spent time on injured reserve and their experiences are eye opening. Niles Paul, Shawn Lauvao, Junior Galette and Morgan Moses all shared the challenges that they went through watching games instead of playing in them. The described depression that came from feeling purposeless and for some, rehabbing alone.
NaVorro Bowman expressed similar feelings having gone through two different major surgeries. He posted pictures and videos of his rehab workouts and they seldom included teammates.
Often athletes start the process in disbelief that this could have happened to them, after all, they are taught to be warriors on the field of play. It shows them the harsh reality that they are not invincible, but the mental challenges could be the most difficult to overcome. Not only are they separated from the team for much of their rehabbing, once they start participating in the team drills, they have to trust that the repaired body part will remain intact. Being a professional athlete requires a lack of hesitation and confidence that you can physically overcome your opponent. Sometimes the opponent can be your own body.