As a Harvard alum in the NFL, Matt Birk was used to doing things a little bit differently than most professional football players.
So it was that his retirement press conference took place at Baltimore’ Battle Grove Elementary School with 40 fifth-graders asking questions and the press standing in the back of the room. Birk, the 2011 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, is establishing a community reading center for students and their families at the school.
“The reason that I wanted to do it here today was because I have enjoyed playing football, but as much as playing, I have enjoyed doing this [giving back to the community] as an NFL player,” Birk said, via a release from the Ravens. “When I was a rookie … There are 53 guys on a team. I was like the 53rd guy. I was the worst player on the team, but I was on the team. That’s all that mattered. I went out and did a visit my first week with the Vikings. I went to a school, and all the kids were going crazy. They didn’t really know who I was. They just knew that I played for the Vikings, and I thought, ‘Wow. This is unbelievable.’ Like I said, this has been a big part of my career, and what I’ve enjoyed doing is coming to schools over the years and really being with young people like you guys. I get a lot of energy — get a lot of positive energy — from you guys and really enjoy it. I just thought that this would be a fitting place to do it.”
Birk’s retirement after 15 seasons will save the Ravens about $2 million off the salary cap, money that can go toward keeping some of the other key players from last year’s Super Bowl champions in town a little while longer.