AJ Barker Dynamites the Pond
By now you’ve probably seen former Gopher wide receiver AJ Barker’s letter to Jerry Kill. Barker sounds, um, angry. And entitled. And disappointed. And jilted. And sad. And [insert strong negative emotion here].
We have seen and heard such sentiments before, though not about Jerry Kill. The question is whether we believe them. While on the one hand it’s easy to read Barker’s kind of snotty-sounding letter and think he’s another spoiled, entitled student-athlete struggling to discover that at this level he is nothing special. Indeed, that seems to be the core of Barker’s complaint, that Kill was tearing him down out of one side of his mouth and building him up with the other. If you’ve never had a teacher, coach, boss, parent, or significant other like that in your life, please start singing Kum Ba Yah right now.
Precisely. Dealing with someone whose emotions turn on a dime depending on what they want from you at any particular moment is just part of life. Most of us learn to use our emotional equalizers to round off the highs and the lows and we carry on. You are not required to have that figured out before your 22nd birthday, and it sounds like Barker might not be there yet.
On the other hand, it’s also a bad idea to assume that if one person happens to be above another on the org chart, the higher person is always right about everything and the lower person should just shut up and quit complaining. We used to live in that sort of a world. Then we found out that the powers that be don’t always have our best interests at heart. Now we insist on a flatter society, one with less distance between the powerless and the powerful. Try to imagine any coach who could get away with running practices of the sort Bear Bryant ran in The Junction Boys. (Okay, try to imagine any coach other than Nick Saban getting away with it. He could probably deport a payer at the end of every practice and Finebaum’s callers would insist the players had it coming.)
Maybe Barker is just reacting in a very understandable way to figuring out he’s not Kill’s golden boy. Maybe Kill really is a difficult guy to play for who made promises to Barker but didn’t keep them. Maybe you think a coach should be allowed to hassle his players as much as he wants to within the bounds of NCAA (and societal) rules. Maybe you don’t. I think we can all agree on one thing: Something here didn’t work. We’d love to know what it was, but the only persons who needs to know — and, in all likelihood, the only persons who ever will — are Jerry Kill’s bosses in Minneapolis. That doesn’t satisfy me either. We’ll probably never know for sure if AJ Barker just flipped the bird on his way out the door, or if this was the only way he could be heard.