Despite being a walk-on, A.J. Barker was the University of Minnesota's leading wide receiver this season before he announced he was leaving the team yesterday.
Along with this tweet came a letter Barker posted on Tumblr, and it's a doozy: It includes some 4,000 words and numerous sanction-worthy allegations against Minnesota coach Jerry Kill. Even if you've never watched a down of college football in your life, Barker's letter is worth reading — it renders, with nuance and complexity, the feelings that come from believing you've been manipulated by an authority figure and how devastating it is when you come to that realization.
There’s nothing special about me?
I’m a dime a dozen?
You don’t know what “fucked up things happened to me to screw me up so much as a person”?
My stock fell as a person since I got injured?
You had 5 of me at Northern Illinois?
You say I’ll never earn a scholarship under you? That I don’t deserve one?
…And then you followed this outburst of rage with an attempt to love me in the most manipulative, deceitful way possible.
You “love” me?
You think I can be a special player?
You think I have what it takes to go to the NFL?
Me and you are the same?
I think I have life all figured out?
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 “fucked 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.
Barker's conflict came from a high-ankle sprain that he believes Minnesota's trainers neglected to fully inform him about. According to Barker, after the injury, Kill implicated Barker's work ethic and personal value in how quickly he returned to the field, as well as his chances of earning a scholarship — which, for the top receiver on a Division I football team, should more or less be a given. Barker alleges that Kill's assistant coaches called him a "faggot" and a small-time player, and that, worst of all, Kill attempted to make Barker emotionally dependent on him by tying Barker's ability to succeed to Kill's own coaching and guidance.
You assured me that you could save me, that you’ve had problematic players in the past (calling out by name: Bart Scott, Brandon Jacobs, and even my teammate Michael Carter), and that you knew how to deal with people like me. You did everything you could to connect with me and at times you did so well that I essentially blacked out in hypnosis as you praised me like you never had before. You had hitched yourself to my wagon. You had driven a wedge into my character and filled it with your praise and support. You had beaten me down and brought me back up by your “grace”. It was textbook manipulation and I saw through it the whole time. I submitted to you entirely and even convinced myself in my head “I have to be genuinely nice to every one in here at all times without ever contesting anything” or you would throw me to the wolves at a drop of the hat.
I’m not going to live like that. I’m not going to be a part of your team when I have only 13 months of eligibility left. I’m not going to give you the opportunity to supposedly save me.
According to Sports Illustrated, "Kill made no mention of Barker's decision earlier Sunday in his regular media availability. He wasn't available for further comment. In a statement distributed later by the university, athletic director Norwood Teague said Kill tried responding to Barker after receiving his e-mail but was unable to connect with the player."
So far, at least if his tweets are any indication, Barker is happy with the reception his letter has received:
And he gave a much more succinct summary of why he was leaving:
If both of those are true, then Barker's decision makes perfect sense: As a walk-on, he won't have to wait a year to play again for another school, and so he could play as a senior with another football program at the beginning of next season. And based on his success this year, it's likely that he will land somewhere else with a scholarship — Barker has 50% more receptions, more than double the yards, and five more touchdowns than the next-best receiver on the team, and his seven scores are more than those of Minnesota's top running back or quarterback.
Of course, Barker's letter has turned him into a national news story in a way that he wouldn't have been had he left the team in a quieter manner. Barker explained the decision to post the letter on Twitter as well:
That being said, it could complicate the matter of his finding another team: As Kill (might have) demonstrated, college coaches don't tend to like it when they believe a player places himself above his teammates or the program. Although it doesn't seem as though Barker feels this way — his letter seems too honest and forthcoming to be a mere publicity stunt/ego boost — there are, and will be, others who read it differently. Looking at his @ mentions on Twitter right now is fascinating: Not only does it paint a nice portrait of the divisive feelings his letter has inspired, but you also see the weird ways in which people react publicly to individuals they'd never heard of hours ago.