Harvin a complex puzzle not easily solved

Posted June 22, 2012 @ 11:41 a.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

Now you know why teams spend tens of thousands of dollars on scouting players’ personalities. You can appreciate why they administer tests and conduct psychological exams on college players they eventually will spend millions of dollars on.

But the problem is that no generic psych test would be able to explain Percy Harvin. That’s neither a good nor a bad thing. It’s mere fact.

Watching the strange hokey pokey — from threats of holdouts and trade demands to being back at practice and tweets of “See u in Mankato” — performed by the Vikings receiver this past week makes you understand why teams worry about the personalities they add to their locker room.

What kind of kid is he? Does he play nicely with others? What exactly are we getting here?

And know this: Harvin is not a bad kid. He’s not a problem child necessarily. He has issues, real issues — yes, people close to him acknowledge that. But Harvin is not what you would call a Terrell Owens clone, not the divisive type.

Or, as Harvin told me his rookie season when I asked him about a number of strange fights he got into in high school, he is not “some kind of monster.” Harvin was right: He’s not at all. He’s misunderstood partially because he seldom lets people get close to him. Few really can know what is going on in his head now or ever.

But Harvin does bring some of his problems on himself as well. Can’t let him off the hook completely because he’s something of a recluse.

I reached out this week to George Stewart, Harvin’s receivers coach since he entered the league and one of his closes allies on the team, but Stewart apparently wasn’t in the talkative mood, which most certainly was his prerogative. Maybe he was under a team-ordered gag restraint on all matters Harvin. Or maybe he wanted to protect the kid from the intense media scrutiny he has received the past few days. I am not sure.

But I have spoken with Stewart many times in the past about Harvin, and Stewart will go to bat for the kid every chance he gets. He will stake his reputation on him, in fact. When Stewart, who also coached T.O., met Harvin’s mother right after Percy was drafted, he knew he was getting a good kid who maybe got a bit of a bad rap coming out of Florida.

“I knew he came from a good family,” Stewart told me in August 2009. “He’s not one of those kids who grew up on the street. He’s a three-car-garage kid. He had a lot more access to things growing up (than Owens).”

It becomes harder to understand Harvin in light of his strange, 72-hour back and forth this past week, though. On Tuesday, he expressed anger and suggested a holdout was forthcoming. On Wednesday, he met with the coaches and later left camp. On Thursday, he was back at practice, doing what he does best: busting up defenses. Later that day, he took to Twitter and gave us 132 characters of confusion to chew on:

"I’m really clueless on the crazy reports...had great prac today ....to all my real fans and real vikes fans see u at Mankato..salute"

Then, seven minutes later when a young female fan tweeted Harvin and asked him if that meant he was staying in Minnesota, Harvin replied with a simple “of course.”

It makes no sense. It’s Percy Harvin. Good kid. Frustrating. Not simple. Quite complex.

Even with that being said, his teammates — some of them for Harvin’s three-plus pro seasons, and most of whom like Harvin personally — were caught off guard by the whole thing.

“Honestly, I don’t really know,” Vikings DE Jared Allen said Wednesday on NFL Network. “I was blindsided by it, too.”

Adrian Peterson said he’d reach out to Harvin. Christian Ponder said he expected Harvin to be at camp. The Vikings need him. It’s why GM Rick Spielman, who has been quite impressive since earning his newly minted title six months ago, slammed the door on ony trade talk. It’s just not happening.

First things first: It was a selfish act by Harvin. There are times and places for these types of things, such as behind closed doors and not in front of digital recorders with fully functioning batteries. (As a journalist, I fully acknowledge the hypocrisy in what I just wrote.)

In doing so, and in not explaining himself, he’s holding his teammates hostage and forcing them to speculate. He’s hanging them and head coach Leslie Frazier, a man not standing on solid rock right now, out to dry.

NFL teams can appreciate selfish acts under the right circumstances. Heck, Michael Jordan was extremely selfish — the public just rarely knew about it when the cameras were on. The one undeniable fact is that you can be selfish in sports if you are (a) extremely talented and (b) smart about how you do it. LeBron James was the former but not the latter. Last night’s NBA title was probably the one thing that will help exorcise the demons that have followed him since The Decision, which was the paragon of selfishness.

There is a current NFL player, a star player I have talked to a few times, who at one point bit his tongue for two years. He confided only to his agent and his wife how miserable he was. It killed him. Ate him up inside. Didn’t even matter what those issues were; the player wanted out of his situation.

But things worked out in the end. Things changed. It didn’t appear they ever would, but they did. Today became tomorrow, and tomorrow was better. The calendar flipped. The sun came up.

And it will for Harvin. It probably doesn’t seem that it will right now — and it certainly didn’t on Tuesday when this whole thing got going — but it probably will. He just doesn’t know it. Maybe it has already. Maybe he does know. We probably never will know until he shows up at training camp. That might not even do it.

While the general population of NFL writers hammer their iPhones trying to get at the reasons why Harvin is upset — they’ll ask sources about contracts, money, playing time and relationships with the coaches in Minnesota — I can tell them that they are probably just as likely to find out those reasons by playing Words With Friends.

Harvin is a complex study and a multilayered person who might feel one thing today and a completely different one tomorrow. That exact scenario played out this past week. Four or five times, you might argue.

The same kid who hurled a weight at Brad Childress two years ago was the one who was named the winner of the Korey Stringer Good Guy Award for his cooperation with the local media. The one who requested a trade one day was back to slaying his defensive teammates in practice the next.

If you’re hung up on why Harvin was upset this week, you could start with the money he’s due the next two years, which is below his value as a terrific player, one who continued to battle as his team went up in flames last season. As Gordon Gekko said in “Wall Street,” it’s “all about bucks, kid … the rest is conversation.” That’s one explanation. Another is that Harvin might want to play more than the 50 to 60 percent of the Vikings’ snaps. One more still is that Harvin might want control over whether or not he practices. But cloaking all of that is Harvin himself.

It’s telling that the teammate he has been closest to in more than three years with the Vikings was Randy Moss, another infamous loner. Moss was acquired on October 6, 2010 and released on November 2 of that year, a span on the team of 28 days. Moss and Harvin might get each other, but the rest of us probably never will get either of them. Most of the media stopped trying with Moss years ago, and we might eventually get to the point where we do the same with Harvin.

Here’s what we know: Harvin won’t be traded, and when he plays, he’ll leave everything on the field. Here’s what we think: He’ll be there for the first day of camp. And here’s what is left to the imagination: The rest of the story, with all of its likely twists and eddies.

Like it or not, the Vikings are in for a ride for the next 21 or so months, at which point Harvin becomes a free agent in March of 2014. Trying to predict what happens past that — or heck, even up until that time — is futile.

Even Harvin doesn’t know what will happen next. It’s pointless to for the rest of us to try to guess how it will unfold. This is both the Vikings’ blessing and their curse.