Tomorrow (Wednesday, Jan. 11) at 7 p.m., former Vikings center Matt Birk will be giving a talk at the Saint Thomas More Catholic Newman Center, located across from the clock tower at 1502 Warren Street.
Birk will speak of the impact of football and his faith on his life throughout high school, college, and the NFL, explains Michael Mortenson, team director of Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) missionaries at the Newman Center. Mortenson, a former college offensive lineman himself, hopes that Birk’s talks will inspire students – especially student athletes – to find their true identity in Christ, not a particular sport.
Leading up to the event, Matt Birk shared some of his story and message with The Reporter. His responses are as follows.
Q: How have the NFL and football in general impacted your life? What have been the benefits and what have been the challenges?
A: I didn’t start playing football until I was a sophomore in high school. What it did for me was give me an outlet. I was pretty driven, but football gave me something to belong to. It was my niche. I got to bond with other young men in a very unique way. It gave me confidence. I didn’t really see myself as being a “tough guy.” But I knew that if I could make it through 2-a-days I could do anything.
When I look back on playing in the NFL, I still can’t believe it really happened. I think about the places I went, the people I met, the things I got to experience – just WOW! The NFL also gave me a platform to try to positively impact others, whether it was through community service or being able to speak about my faith. Agree with it or not, athletes have a platform in our society. I was cognizant of that and wanted to try to use it for good.
Q: What was it like to play in the NFL? Was the celebrity status hard to get used to?
A: The challenges or dangers of playing in the NFL are that it is very easy to “believe the hype.” There are a lot of people, strangers mostly, telling you how well you are doing. We see it every day in our culture that celebrity can be intoxicating. I was fortunate playing at home in Minnesota. I had my family close by. I hung out with the same people I hung out with in high school. They were proud of me, but they weren’t impressed by me or what I was doing. That helped keep me grounded. Another benefit to that I was able to share the journey with those closest to me. Whether that was going to pro bowls, the Super Bowl, or tailgating at the Metrodome after a home game, the whole experience was enhanced by being able to share it with those who helped me get to the NFL.
Q: How does your faith play a role in your life?
A: My Catholic faith is everything to me. It helps me articulate my identity and the purpose of my life. The bad times in life are guaranteed, the good times are not. But if I know who I am and why I am here, I can handle anything.
Q: What is one thing you wish you knew as a college student?
A: My advice to college students would be to keep your faith during your college years. I fell away hard and it set me back for a while. I did things I’m not proud of. I wasted time. You will never regret going to church on Sunday. Stay the course. Seek the truth. If you don’t have a strong faith foundation, it’s only a matter of time before your world will come crashing down.
Q: After winning the Super Bowl with the Ravens in 2013, you chose not to meet with President Obama in the White House with the rest of your team. Could you explain that decision?
A: I didn’t visit the White House when the Ravens won the Super Bowl because President Obama was the first sitting president to address Planned Parenthood and, at the end of his remarks, he said “God bless Planned Parenthood.” That is ridiculous. My wife and I are proud pro-life advocates. We feel like it is the fundamental moral issue facing our world. All evil needs to take root is for good to do nothing, so I felt like I needed to take a stand.
Q: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment in life?
A: My greatest accomplishment is my wife and eight kids.
Q: Now that you have retired, what are your goals post-football?
A: [My post-football goal is] to discern God’s will for my life. I know he wants me to be an outstanding husband and father. Professionally, I work with the NFL and other football organizations. Football helped bring me back to the Catholic faith. I think there are a lot of elements of the game that expose young men to the truth and are spiritual by nature. I think that is why I love the game so much.
Q: Where do your loyalties lie now: Vikings or Ravens?
A: I’ve been a Vikings fan for 40 years, Ravens only since 2009…