Catching up with retired Ravens center Matt Birk

Birk discusses his new book, his role in the NFL and Michael Sam

  • Retired ex-Raven Matt Birk threw out the first pitch at an Orioles-Twins game in Minneapolis last year.
Retired ex-Raven Matt Birk threw out the first pitch at an Orioles-Twins… (Jesse Johnson, USA TODAY…)
February 25, 2014|By Matt Vensel, The Baltimore Sun

Former Ravens center Matt Birk, the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2012 and a Super Bowl champion, will be back in the Baltimore area this Thursday for a signing for his new book, “All-Pro Wisdom: The 7 Choices that Lead to Greatness.” The book, which Birk describes as “a manual to put people on their own path, their own journey for personal greatness,” was co-authored by his friend Rich Chapman. In advance of the book signing, Birk had a lengthy phone conversation with reporter Matt Vensel about the book, the 2013 Ravens and his thoughts on NFL prospect Michael Sam.

MV: Many former players have talked about the tough transition into life after football, but it looks like you are staying busy by spending time with your family, writing a book, working for the NFL and, most notably, becoming a supermodel. A year removed from the Super Bowl, how is life treating you?

MB: It’s good. And like you said, it’s busy. That’s kind of been my problem throughout my whole life -- I probably don’t slow down enough. That’s OK. I’d rather be too busy than not busy enough. Certainly coming out of last year, coming out of football, this book was like a calling for me, something I had to do. That, along with my family and my position with the NFL, which I was very fortunate to get, I haven’t really had much of a chance to sit around and reflect, but that’s OK. I’m more of a looking-ahead kind of guy anyway.

MV: You went from being an NFL player to working for the league as an appeals officer, meaning you are part of the judge and jury of your former peers. What appealed to you -- no pun intended -- about serving in that position and did you ever hear from any former teammates about your role?

MB: [NFL commissioner] Roger Goodell was the one who reached out to me and asked me if I was interested. I have a great deal of respect for him so I just kind of put everything else on hold and pursued it. I had to be approved by the NFL and also the NFLPA and [NFLPA executive director] DeMaurice Smith, another guy I respect. They felt good about me taking on this role. I want to do a good job because those are two guys I respect a lot. And I feel like this is important work right now with the call for change that is going on in the NFL as it relates to safety, specifically the head injuries and trauma. We have to see these rule changes through and uphold them. It’s also a little bit of an adjustment period going on with defensive players and helmet-to-helmet hits. Sometimes, football is not played in a vacuum or played in straight lines. There is a lot of different things that are going on out on the field, and as an appeals judge I’m just trying to read the rules, interpret the rules and the spirit of the rules. At the end of the day, I’m just trying to get it right but I feel like this position is an important one because it is kind of the final channel that the safety changes go through. It’s a big deal. It’s a big deal to me.

MV: Was it difficult watching the Ravens from afar, especially since they struggled by their standards? Did you ever think about coming back?

MB: There were a couple of times where I sat on the couch and thought, “Yeah, I can still do it.” And you know, you’re just full of yourself. There’s no way I could do it anymore. There’s certainly part of me that wishes I still could. That will never get fully out of my system, even though I was able to play for a long time. Playing football -- next to being a superhero -- is probably the best thing there is to make a living. It’s just a lot of fun. When I would watch and I really would miss it -- this is going to sound kind of odd -- was after the Ravens lost a tough game on the road. It’s hard as those are to go through as a player, you always learn more from a loss than you do from a win, especially when you go on the road and have to fly back home after a tough game. You tend to have very raw, honest conversations with your teammates. You’ve just been humbled and guys are vulnerable and somewhat emotional. Conversations with that kind of depth don’t happen every day. That’s when I really felt like I wish I was there in some way to maybe try to help out. I don’t miss the game. Like everybody else that retires, I miss the guys. I miss the locker room.

MV: Would you ever think about coaching? I know it’s not the same thing…

MB: I am. I’m coaching five-year-old tyke football. That’s just about the same as the NFL. [Laughs.] I don’t think I would only because of the commitment time-wise. I mean, players work hard, but coaches and their families, they sacrifice the most. I just don’t see that fitting into my life.

MV: How do you think your successor, Gino Gradkowski, performed, and do you believe he is the answer at center?

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