During the summer of 2020, Minnesota Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter was hampered by an injury of which few knew the severity. General Manager Rick Spielman traded for Yannick Ngakoue, an EDGE rusher from the Jacksonville Jaguars, who was supposed to pair with Hunter and formulate a formidable pass-rushing force. In retrospect, that might’ve been a contingency plan.
Why? Despite head coach Mike Zimmer’s insistence that Hunter was battling a “tweak,” the LSU alumnus missed the entire 2020 season with a neck injury. The fracas exposed Zimmer as a speaker of misleading statements for many fans – even though the coach truly believed the matter was minor. Zimmer was wrong. Therefore, any time thereafter that a player encounters an injury – the Vikings skipper must be lying when commenting on the degree of the injury. That’s the working theory, anyhow.
Never mind the notion that Zimmer himself perhaps was misled. That type of thinking is evidently too advanced, ensuring Zimmer does not receive the benefit of the doubt, at least not for a while.
Flash forward to 2021 and a handful of Vikings players have already experience preseason injuries. And the one that is most eerily familiar to the Hunter situation is Anthony Barr’s status.
Nobody knows what is wrong with Barr, but he has not practiced for about a month. Players generally have some type of explanation that accompanies an absence from training camp, practice, and preseason games. For Barr, though, it’s all a mystery.
When asked about the Barr ordeal on Monday, Zimmer replied as if he is vividly familiar with the weight his words carried last year:
Mike Zimmer on Anthony Barr: “I hate to say it, because you guys just say I’m wrong if I’m wrong, but he’s doing really good. We’ve got a good plan for him to get him ready to go.”
— Ben Goessling (@GoesslingStrib) August 30, 2021
Still wrapped up with optimism on Barr’s early-season prognosis, Zimmer learned his lesson. No longer will he claim an injury is minor – without clearly knowing the trainer or doctor’s assessment. It’s a bit of a bummer because onlookers to the team would like Zimmer to be as transparent as possible. But when he knows his every word will be construed as some deep search for semantics or meaning, Zimmer will preface things a bit more judiciously.
It shows that he is fully aware the media and fans are merchants in the gotcha game. If Zimmer says one time that a player has a tweak, well that means every player going forward is destined for a season-long trip to the IR. This is why Michael Pierce’s calf injury from July was greeted with “here we go again” from fans. The pattern also fits with things like “player tweets.” If a player tweets a cryptic song lyric a la Stefon Diggs, his bags are packed elsewhere because he must be disgruntled, according to some fans.
Learning from past behavior or events is more than reasonable – to an extent. For example, yes, if Zimmer said Hunter had a “tweak” but it turned out to be a season-ender, it’s good for fans to remember that for lessons learned. Yet, it need not be an indictment for every injury that arises.
Zimmer made a mistake on analyzing (or believing somebody) an injury one year ago. He is not a habitual liar, nor does he seek to agitate you.
His comments on Monday to the press exemplify self-awareness. He does not want to be savaged every step of the way for something that occurred a year ago.
It’s almost a footnote that Barr really does seem to be getting healthy.
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday along with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).