Some athletes like to go out with a bang, but former Minnesota Gophers wide receiver A.J. Barker took that idea to the extreme.
According to Barker's tweet on Sunday, the junior wide receiver is no longer with the program:
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
But he didn't stop there. Barker wrote a letter (via 1500espn.com) to Gophers head coach Jerry Kill, admonishing the head coach for "pathetic, manipulative display of rage and love you put on this past Thursday."
The letter is simply stunning in its entirety. Here's the opening paragraph:
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.
It doesn't end there either. Maybe calling this a letter isn't appropriate. It's not a novel, but it's long.
Kill's statement, according to Barker, that "You don't know what "(Expletive) up things happened to me to screw me up so much as a person?" is bold to say the least. Saying that he became a lesser person after suffering an injury is even worse.
He mentions Kill's assertion that he's "a dime a dozen," saying that Kill said that "he had five of him at Northern Illinois."
He was Minnesota's leading receiver, but it looks like Kill said that he would never earn a scholarship under him—that he didn't deserve to earn one. But then, bizarrely, the coach apparently claimed to love him, call him a future NFL player and say that the two men are one and the same.
It's hard to tell exactly how all of this went down without being a fly on the wall, but Kill's words are strange to say the least. Maybe it's his own way of motivating guys, but Barker didn't take to it. Part of a head coach's job is to be aware of his players' feelings, and Kill obviously wasn't here.
After ripping Kill every which way though, Barker builds himself up. He shows himself as a very strong person who is not "a dime a dozen." He mentions this as well:
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 "(expletive) 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.
Barker is obviously angry, and if Kill said any of these things, it's hard to blame him. He won't accept Kill's "ruthless attempt to degrade and belittle" him, and he shouldn't.
A lot of the letter goes into the specifics of an ankle injury that plagued Barker throughout the season. Kill obviously either didn't believe that he was hurt, or didn't think that the receiver was working hard enough to get back on the field.
Detailing the mind games that Kill played during his injury is astonishing. Barker details occasions where Kill acted like a friendly coach who had his top receiver's well-being in mind and others where he acted like a completely different person.
It's hard to remember sometimes, but Barker is in college. That's a lot to handle for anyone, but he obviously took everything Kill said to heart. If you want to coach at the college level, you must take that into account.
In the end, Barker apologizes to his teammates and Minnesota's fans. He won't let the "master manipulator" break him down. He won't let him "sacrifice him at the drop of a hat," but he manages to retain his dignity.
Catching the essence of the entire letter is necessary to understanding Barker's viewpoint, and it's worth it. His writing gives insight into Kill's handling of the Gophers team and shows how a player-coach relationship can go south.
Ideally Barker will find another school where he fits in with the head coach, and maybe this letter will save a different young player from Kill's wrath in the future.