If college has taught us anything, it’s that you never air your laundry– dirty, clean or soaking wet– on the Internet.
On Sunday, Nov. 18, University of Minnesota wide receiver A.J. Barker did all of the above. He wrote on Twitter first, and then in a lengthy letter addressed to coach Jerry Kill on Barker’s personal Tumblr that he would be quitting the team.
The news came as a shock to the Gopher football community, but even more surprising was his reason for leaving. Barker, a junior walk-on, accused Kill of “manipulation and abuse” before rehashing the details in more than 4,000 words online.
At first glance, I was impressed by Barker’s decision to go public with the letter. Not because I agreed with his approach, but because he followed his heart. As a walk-on without a scholarship, he had a unique opportunity to step away from the program without losing his last year of eligibility. He shed light on a number of valid concerns surrounding college football ethics. In fact, his message was universal: College athletes deserve to be treated with respect. They deserve a voice.
We heard Barker’s voice, loud and clear. However, before anyone had a chance to give an opinion, the football standout was “moving on” to the media. In a 25-minute cringe-worthy interview with KARE-TV, he danced around the tough questions.
Instead of sticking to the arguments in his letter to Kill, Barker rambled on about his father’s fitness regimen and his dream of playing in the Big Ten against the Gophers, ultimately sacrificing his credibility for 15 minutes of fame and fumbling.
In his written argument titled “My Letter to Jerry Kill, why I quit”, Barker listed his reasons for leaving the team. He claimed that the coach degraded and belittled him, quoting Kill as saying Barker was “a dime a dozen” and that there was “nothing special” about him. Barker stressed the importance of standing up for himself and speaking out against psychological abuse in collegiate sports.
A few hours later, in the interview with KARE-TV, Barker downplayed the importance of the matter when he was asked how Kill should be dealt with.
“There’s no lawsuit, there’s no ill will I’m hoping on him. I’m not hoping he loses his position in any way,” Barker said. “It’s my way of saying it didn’t work with me.”
It’s hard to ignore the inconsistency. Initially, Barker was making heavy accusations about Kill’s abusive behavior. Then, it was simply a strained relationship between coach and player.
In writing, Barker went on to explain his recent ankle injury and a series of conversations between Kill and himself. He said the coach told him that if he was not healthy by the following week’s game, “the train would be moving on” without him. Later, while Barker was talking with a trainer about his ankle, Kill allegedly approached him and exploded in a “20-minute tirade” that included cussing and attacking his character.
On the contrary, during the KARE-TV interview, Barker was asked if he butt heads with Kill over the injury and he responded, “Well no, what I found was that the trainer’s were butting heads with me without me knowing it.”
So, who’s really to blame?
Finally in the letter, Barker cited Kill’s “textbook manipulation” as a reason for walking away from the program. He wrote that the coach attempted to beat him down and then bring him up with his grace, even providing readers with a list of terms and definitions.
In the interview, Barker suggested that Kill wasn’t the only person at fault.
“There has been a pattern throughout my life where there has been friction, at times, for me with authority figures,” he said.
Ultimately, the letter stated that he hoped his story would motivate other collegiate athletes to stand up against psychological abuse by a coach or superior.
He mentioned another hope to KARE-TV.
“I would definitely love to play against Minnesota if that were possible,” Barker said. “You know, to just be able to get in that ring with them and to be able to compete against them.”
Just like that, the focus shifted from a serious issue in college sports to Barker’s personal agenda.
While I commend his decision to follow his heart, I think we’ve all learned a bigger lesson: if you do air your laundry on the Internet, prepare to go through the wringer. Football cleats and all.
Carly Samuelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.