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
He then posted a lengthy rant on Tumblr detailing his decision to leave the team, accusing Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill of being a “master manipulator.” In fact, he uses a variant of the word “manipulator” 30 times in the 4000-plus word epistle. As Deadspin notes, Barker is currently the Gophers' leading receiver, putting up 577 yards and 7 touchdowns on the season.
Here's how it begins, via ajbarker82.tumblr.com:
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.
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?
He goes on:
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 than goes into a detailed account of his ankle injury which caused a disagreement between Barker and Coach Kill:
Here’s to my injury… My best way to tell all this is simply to explain everything I can.
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.
Well, I got back up to about 90 percent in the week leading up to the Michigan game. Then, in warm ups, right before we were finished, I planted my foot normally and felt a cracking sensation in my Anterior Talofibular Ligament (ATL) in my ankle (for the record, at the time of the “tweak” I did not know the name of the ligament). Following that cracking sensation the ligament got instantly stiff and I could feel it pressing against the bottom of my Fibula. At the time of my injury (Michigan warm ups to be clear) I told myself over and over and over again it was nothing serious, I simply tweaked it and I’ll be back soon. My recovery did not follow that fantasy. I didn’t have much swelling (which can happen with high ankle sprains), but my ankle had no explosiveness whatsoever and I my ATL was throbbing and unable to function.
This time around, my ankle did not progress like it had the week before. I wasn’t making any improvement day-to-day with my ATL. The training staff informed me they weren’t going to try and have me play against Illinois, which I was forced to realize wasn’t possible anyways. And when the Monday after the Illinois game came around, I realized I was still making very limited progress. At this point the training staff hadn’t updated me on what happened to my ankle, no one had informed I suffered a high ankle sprain of any sort. I was told it was simply a day-to-day thing with the typical response from the trainers, ‘lets see how it does tomorrow’. This past Tuesday, you forced me to practice. That was proven impossible when I couldn’t get through warm ups. After talking with Ed Lochery, I withdrew from practice and participated in the “orange shirt workouts” for players that are sitting out of practice with an injury. After completing that workout, I was on the sideline watching practice when you approached me and asked me what I was doing. I told you I gave it a try and couldn’t even get through warm ups, at which point you retorted quite aggressively, “This trains moving on with out you. When you get back, you’ll have to work your way from the bottom up.”…and some other motivating jargin that I took as exactly that, motivation. A part of me was upset because I still didn’t know what my ankle injury was and I hadn’t had an MRI to this point, but another part was ready to come back better than ever and have my best performance(s) of the year. I embraced the opportunity to come back from the bottom, because like you have always failed to recognize, I’m legitimately good at football. I couldn’t wait to go against players I was legitimately better than and beat play in and play out. I was committed to taking my game to the next level.
Wednesday came and after doing my own research the night before I realized I’d had a High Ankle Sprain since the warm ups for the Michigan game. I approached the trainers about what I needed to get in order to see the ligaments in my ankle. They informed what I was asking about was an MRI and then asked me, “why? Are you concerned about something?” I replied, “yeah, I am”, and walked out of the training room. I began contacting my parents to set up an appointment to get an MRI when the trainers came running after me to tell me they would do it. Because I wasn’t worried about the politics of the situation, I was fine with them taking me to get the MRI. All I cared about was my health. I wasn’t trying to “show up” the trainers, I was taking accountability for my own body and doing what I could to heal most effectively. On the car ride to get the MRI I was talking with Chris Ashton and telling him I simply wanted to understand what was going on in my ankle and that I think I have a high ankle sprain. He responded immediately by saying, “oh we know you have a high ankle sprain, we just don’t think its that severe”. This was now the first time I was being told I suffered a high ankle sprain, and the MRI I would get 15 minutes after that confirmed exactly that: tears in my ATL and bruising to my bone above my heel.
Now I finally had the understanding what was wrong with my ankle and the reassurance of Doc Smith that I could possibly be back in as soon as a week.
All was looking positive until you, Coach Kill, informed at the beginning of practice on Thursday that if I have the right attitude and work hard (with a tone that suggested I was NOT working hard nor had the right attitude) with the trainers that I will be healthy for the MSU game and even qualified it by saying the only way I wouldn’t be healthy is if I didn’t do everything you asked of me. I was shocked to hear definitively that I would be healthy for next week or it was my fault. After I finished doing my “orange shirt workout” I approached Ed Lochery about my ankle. I was approaching him about the premise that I should be healthy by next week or it was my fault and he agreed with the premise. He went on to tell me that if I had done everything he asked I would be healthy by now. He claimed I was cutting exercises short and not icing after treatments. I clarified that I iced when I had swelling, and because of acupuncture appointments I was receiving outside the facilities, I didn’t like how it stiffened up my ankle at times. This conversation between me and Ed was so honest that we got to the point where we acknowledged this was an “ego” thing and not about my health whatsoever. He trusted that I was working hard away from the team, but claimed he didn’t like the effort I was putting in to my treatments with the team (its VERY important to note that he had expressed none of this to me in the past 3 weeks and went as far as to conceal the fact he had a problem with what I was doing). It was during this discussion that you came over and exploded on me in front of the entire team in our indoor facility. “YOU DON’T FUCKING GET TO TELL THE TRAINER WHAT YOU DO!” followed by a 20 minute tyraid where you attacked everything about me, from an athlete to my character as a person. I took every word of it replying faithfully “Yes sir. Yes sir. No, sorry sir” and watched as you demeaned me to a point of no return. You took the one thing you had a say in (my football playing career and my future) and you held it against me in an attempt to break me, going as far as to tell me I’ll never get a scholarship or see the field again.
Here I am, missing the last 4 games of my junior season of college football, where I had a chance to cement my place in gopher history, in a system that runs on a finite eligibility clock, and I’m being told that if I wanted to, I’d be healthy. I’m being told that “I don’t have a say” in my own injury or rehab? Well, Jerry Kill, this is 2012, not 1974 in small town Kansas, I do have the right to have a say in my own body and how it is being treated. There is nothing more important to me than playing this game I love. I want nothing more than to be healthy and out there on the field with my team. However frustrated you were isn’t 1/1000 the pain I feel from the reality that I will never get to play Michigan at home, avenge the dropped balls @ illinois from my freshman year, or play Nebraska @ Nebraska.
The worst part of this all, though, wasn’t the way you cussed me out, it was how you “loved me up” in private after practice completed. You revealed the extent to which you are a manipulator. 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.
But don’t be confused by this explanation into thinking this is a quick/irrational decision based solely around Thursday’s event. Last spring before the spring game I was called a faggot for my spiritual views by Coach Reeves where other players on the team heard him say it. Coach Poore put me down the week before the UNLV, calling my play pathetic and claiming I couldn’t handle the bright lights. It was his last opportunity to shit on me before I broke free of my “junior walk on” tag and proved I was the real deal. I technically started 1 game (Wisconsin) this season despite proving to be the most effective receiver on the team and I never said a word. I was not given a scholarship because, as you expressed to me after the UNLV game, you think it should go to our kicker, and added that you want me to be healthy for an entire season before you give me one. Being the dictator/manipulator you are, you then told me I had to respond to questions from the media about scholarships in a way that made you look favorable. So, Considering I wasn’t healthy for the whole season and the fact you’re willing to hold a scholarship against me (which means nothing to me or my family), I don’t WANT a scholarship from you or the institution you represent. I don’t WANT to regain your approval. You referenced my spiritual views on three different occasions claiming “if I were a bad person I’d hold it against you”. Well, Coach Kill, taking everything into account, the fact you felt the need to say that on three different occasions goes to show that it probably did play a part in your views of me.
So from here I have two options. Either I come back and act like none of this ever happened and submit to you, or I remove myself from this cycle of manipulation.
Well, I’m done lying for you on your behalf. I’m not ever playing another down of football for you on anyone’s behalf.
Thank you for not giving me a scholarship. As an unrecruited walk-on I can transfer without having to sit out a year, which I verified in the NCAA transfer-guide for 2012-2013. I can’t wait until the end of the season because that would risk you building up a false reputation around me that could make me unattractive to any other football program. I can’t reason with you because we don’t share equal premises. You pushed me to the brink, and now all I have the power left to do is leave.
Go read the conclusion of the rant over on his Tumblr, where he apologies to his teammates for quiting in such a public fashion and continues to make allegations of Coach Kill's manipulation. It's a pretty uncanny way to leave a team; anyone who's ever played organized sports knows that coach politicking happens. Sure not everyone on the Gopher football team feels the same about Coach Kill as Baker does. Is this letter fair? What do you think about a high profile D-1 athlete quitting in such an outspoken way?