In the midst of troubling stories about local athletes like Ray Rice and Deonte Thompson, I’ll brighten your morning with a story about a guy who showed up here five years ago and did a lot of great work in our community and helped the Ravens win a title in 2012. He was in town again yesterday, promoting his new book, All-Pro Wisdom.
I’m talking, of course, about former Ravens center Matt Birk.
Birk appeared last night at Greetings and Readings in Hunt Valley to sign copies of his outstanding book and was met by a line of over 75 people when he showed up shortly before 7pm. As I was leaving shortly thereafter, more folks were flowing in to meet the former Ravens player.
They don’t make ’em like Matt Birk anymore.
When he was signed by the Ravens in 2009, Birk was already established in Minnesota having spent eleven seasons with the Vikings. It would have been easy for him to have just left his family in St. Paul and done the whole “Daddy has to go work somewhere else for five months” deal that a lot of athletes do when they don’t want to uproot their wife and children, but Birk and his family moved to Baltimore. He brought with him an extraordinary foundation he created from scratch in Minnesota — the H.I.K.E. Foundation — and quickly put it into action in Baltimore.
I’ve been involved in a lot of player-related civic and charity endeavors in my sports/media career, but very few of them have a true, grass roots impact like Birk’s Foundation did. Often times, and the stories are out there and documented, players use their Foundations to employ family members, friends, etc. and the percentage of the money brought in vs. money distributed or used for community purposes are mysteriously low. That was never the case with Birk and his Foundation. Our WNST charity golf outing raised over $5,000 for the H.I.K.E. Foundation in 2012 and Birk purchased 400 text books with that money and then distributed them to inner city schools in need of new science materials. He also went to the school himself and spent time there reminding the students how important it is to stay in school, work hard and be a good son or daughter.
That’s just one example I can give you of what Matt Birk did for our community when he was here.
One of hundreds of stories, I suppose.
When he retired after the 2012 Super Bowl win, he took his formula for the H.I.K.E. Foundation and turned it over to Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith so he could continue to do the work Birk started when he arrived in Baltimore in 2009. Smith, I’m certain, will carry the torch and burn it brightly and Baltimore will be better for it.
One final story about Matt Birk. While visiting with him on radio row at the Super Bowl last month, he noticed the hat I was wearing and said, “What’s that, you’re an Arizona Cardinals fan now that I’m gone?”
I was wearing a Calvert Hall Golf hat.
“No…I’m the golf coach at Calvert Hall…we’re the Cardinals,” I explained.
He turned to his co-author, Rich Chapman — who was with him on radio row talking about their new book — and said, “Let’s send Drew’s golf team a copy of the book. How many kids are on the team?”
“Fourteen,” I replied. “I have a big dinner on March 15 to kick off the season. It would be great to give them all a book that night.”
“Done,” Birk said. “You’ll get fourteen copies of the book to distribute to your team.”
And that was that.
I’ll have my players on the varsity golf team read Birk’s book and write a brief report on it that I can submit to Birk and Chapman so they see some reciprocation of their friendly gesture.
And they’ll be better golfers and young men for reading it, too.