Whether you see him as whiner or hero, A.J. Barker this weekend did us all a favor, pulling back the veil on one of the unseemly aspects of college sports. I’m talking about the psychology of tearing people down and building them up.
Barker, the Minnesota Golden Gophers leading receiver, posted a long letter on why he’s quitting the team, savaging coach Jerry Kill over the aftermath of a confrontation on Thursday centered around Barker’s ankle rehab and whether he was doing what team trainers wanted.
Barker’s been out with an ankle sprain. In the letter, he details how Kill launched into a tirade against him after Thursday’s practice, attacking “everything about me, from an athlete to my character as a person….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.”
Yelling or demeaning players is nothing new in any sport where there’s enormous pressure to win. And, really, we shouldn’t be shocked that Jerry Kill practices this art. He’s the guy, remember, who last year forced a player for unspecified reasons to wear a brown jersey with “Minnesota Lopher” printed on the front in pink letters, and “I let my teammates down” on the back.
Barker says he, too, took Thursday’s dressing down in stride. It was Kill’s next step he says he couldn’t take.
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 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.
I understood long ago that I would not succeed in sports or the military. I don’t like being told what to do. I react poorly to people trying to manipulate me.
That’s true for most of us. Sports and the military seem to be the only places left where those in power automatically feel the only way they’ll get you to do what’s required is to rip you apart and then build you up.
I get why the military has to be that way.
— Paul Tosto