What's been a bizarre weekend already in the Big Ten got just a bit stranger thanks to A.J. Barker and his status as a football player at the University of Minnesota. After an apparent incident of mistreatment from head coach Jerry Kill and the Gophers training staff Barker took to twitter and Tumblr to explain why he would be leaving the program.
It's pretty clear things are over between him and the Minnesota football program, to use Barkers words exactly.
Well, its official. I am done playing football for the University of Minnesota and I will be looking to transfer next season for my final yr
— AJ Barker (@A_Barker_82) November 18, 2012
Following that statement on Twitter Barker decided it would be an awesome idea to air out his dirty laundry and perhaps violate the one thing a player is never supposed to do - talk about what happens behind closed doors. Whatever happened to keeping it within the team?
I'm sure the vast majority of you reading this have been members of a sports team or two and a family in your life, so you know that things happen within the team structure and the player/coach or parent/child relationship that others outside of those directly involved will never know about. It's part of the deal of being on a team or in a family, right?
Instead, Barker decided it was his duty to not only explain to the fans that he was leaving, but to give a blow by blow account of his version of what happened.
Now, for posterity's sake you can read the full letter here, but let's just go through the highlights here, shall we?
"Thank you for that last bit of motivation I needed to put myself over the top. Thank you for showing me your true colors; that you will stop at nothing to prove you have control over me. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to play on your team. Thank you for “loving” me. Thank you for proving that with hard work and persistence people can go very far, even if they are less qualified/talented than their competition. Thank you for not giving me a scholarship. Thank you for providing me with an additional perspective of how to coach a college football team.
Now, in honor of my family and myself I’m done with you for good. In light of that pathetic, manipulative display of rage and love you put on this past Thursday, I have come to the decision, with the guidance of my parents and my closest friends, that my time on this team has come to an end. It kills me that I have to do this before the season’s over, but this is the only way I can protect myself against the manipulation and abuse I’d have to endure from you the rest of this season."
And then there was this amazing gem of his explanation of the age old question of why:
"Well, Jerry Kill, I don’t choose to believe I’m a dime a dozen. My parents raised me in the most honorable and noble way possible, they never took from me. They never lied to me, or hurt me. There weren’t any ********* up” things that happened to me growing up and it’s a disgrace to the effort my parents put forward every single day they were around me to insinuate anything of that sort. My parents and friends are extremely proud of me. They don’t view me as screwed up. In honor of everyone I associate myself with, I will not accept your ruthless attempt to degrade and belittle me. I am an upstanding member of society and a paying/honest student at the University of Minnesota. I haven’t got in trouble with the law. I don’t have any demons in my closet. I don’t mistreat or hurt the people around me. I carry myself with dignity and respect."
Finally, we got to the reason behind it all, an apparent spat over what was happening with Barker's injured ankle and his rehab of said injury.
"I sprained my ankle while running into the endzone on a touchdown against Purdue. There was no MRI following the injury because we (the trainers and myself) didn’t think it was necessary. My personal reasoning for not getting an MRI was because I didn’t want to entertain the possibility of my injury being severe, and I’d rather push as hard as I can to rehab it believing it was a minor issue. I figured if it was something severe, my rehab would be greatly affected and time would tell me that something more serious has happened. I had some discomfort in front of my achilles tendon above my heal. I was limited in being able to get the “pop” I was used to from my ankle."
So, what does Barker go on and do? Yep, you guessed it, the young man goes on and contradicts this very statement, saying he wasn't following the orders given to him by the trainers and that the injury wasn't healing the way he was hoping it would. He even goes as far as to say he wasn't icing down his ankle, only doing it when he saw visible swelling. Well, guess what, visible swelling isn't the only sign that things aren't going right with a ligament injury. It's understandable then that a coach and trainer would be upset by that.
Kill apparently goes off because of this and probably some other things, but the point is that Barker attempts to paint a picture of an evil, manipulative, egotistical person that didn't have his best interests at heart in this injury matter and that's why he was quiting the team.
All that's really left to say is first off - what coach in college football doesn't have an ego? If you don't have one you are in the wrong business or surely are on your way out of your job as I'm writing this. Secondly, what coach doesn't use some form of manipulation to get the most out of his players? Some respond to blunt truth, others need some positive reinforcement, and yet others need to be broken down and built back up to realize potential. That's how life works.
In a world of increasing "you hurt my feelings, so I'm going to say I'm being abused" we're seeing more and more of this type of reaction from players. Is Kill 100% in the right, probably not (but hard to judge based off of he biased opinion of just one party in the matter), but there's a way to go about doing things and Mr. Barker you did them all the wrong way.
You say you carry yourself with dignity and class yet you publicly call out your coach by publishing a letter on an internet website? That's neither classy nor dignified in any regard.
Life is going to hand you lessons you never expected to learn, both good and bad, for the rest of your life. It's not about what happens to you, it's about how you respond and in this case A.J. Barker is completely in the wrong. Address your coach, address your teammates, and give yourself a chance to say a classy goodbye to the fans that supported you no matter what.
Good luck the rest of the way, but also good luck trying to attract the attention of another FBS school in this country. Reactions like that will make coaches more than weary of you and your character.