Ravens veteran center Matt Birk was named the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year on Saturday night, recognition for his consistent play on the field and his commitment to community endeavors.
Birk is the first Ravens player to win the award, given annually to recognize a player’s community service and playing excellence. The announcement was made at the “NFL Honors” award show in Indianapolis, site of Sunday’s Super Bowl.
"I am honored and truly humbled to be named the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year," Birk said in a statement released by the Ravens. "This award is not about the recipient, but rather a celebration of the decades-long tradition of NFL players using their unique platform to touch lives and make a positive and lasting impact in the communities in which they work and live. Walter Payton left a legacy that went beyond the playing field. He continues to be an inspiration and example of what a complete NFL player should aspire to become. I am grateful to have played for two organizations, the Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens, which encourage and support their players' community efforts. I have always considered it a privilege to play in the NFL and serve the communities that support our game."
Birk, a 14-year veteran who has played the past three seasons with the Ravens and is contemplating retirement, had been his team’s NFL Man of the Year recipient eight times and a finalist for the national award in 2008 before winning this season.
He was selected over two other finalists — San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and Chicago Bears defensive back Charles Tillman — by a search panel that included NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Connie Payton (Walter’s widow), Pro Football Hall of Famers Frank Gifford and Anthony Munoz, executive director of the NFL Alumni Association George Martin, 2010 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Madieu Williams (Maryland), and Sports Illustrated writer Peter King.
As the winner of the award, Birk will receive the Gladiator statue before the kickoff of Sunday's Super Bowl and an additional $20,000 donation in his name to his favorite charity. He already received a $1,000 donation from NFL Charities to a charity of his choice for being the Ravens’ winner and a $5,000 donation for being an award finalist.
Birk, 35, started all 18 games for the Ravens — he has started 96 consecutive games overall — and helped running back Ray Rice have a career year with a franchise-record 15 touchdowns and a league-high 2,068 yards from scrimmage.
Off the field, the Harvard graduate continued to be active with his “Ready, Set, Read!” program, an initiative of his HIKE Foundation (HIKE stands for Hope, Inspiration, Knowledge and Education). The program provides at-risk Baltimore-area children with educational opportunities and motivates them to read at home through an incentive-based system.
Birk, a father of six, also continues to be an advocate for concussion awareness and prevention and has pledged to donate his brain and spinal cord tissues to a Boston University medical school program that studies sports brain injuries.
The former Minnesota Viking is a free agent and he has said several times during Super Bowl week that he’ll either return to the Ravens next season or retire.