Matt Birk (Al Messerschmidt/Getty)
Center Matt Birk is being recognized for his off-field activities once again. This time, Birk is one of three finalists for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year.
As an unrestricted free agent, Matt Birk’s future with the Minnesota Vikings may be in doubt, but his status within the community isn’t.
Birk, the longtime Vikings center, is one of three finalists for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, along with Eagles safety Brian Dawkins and Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner.
In December, Birk was named the Vikings Man of the Year for the seventh consecutive season. The Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award is the only league award that recognizes a player’s off-the-field community service as well as his playing excellence.
The winner will be announced live on NBC before Super Bowl XLIII on Feb. 1. Birk, Dawkins, and Warner will be in Tampa Bay during Super Bowl week and participate in a press conference that Friday with Connie Payton, the late Walter Payton’s wife.
Former Vikings wide receiver Cris Carter (1999) is the only Viking to win the award since its inception in 1970. On that list of winners are 17 Pro Football Hall of Famers.
In 2002, Birk established the HIKE Foundation (Hope, Inspiration, Knowledge, Education), aimed at giving educational opportunities and resources to Twin Cities youngsters. The foundation provides scholarships to high school area seniors and helps younger students gain the skills they need to excel; more than 10,000 elementary students have participated in Birk’s ‘Ready, Set, Read!’ program. As part of the HIKE Scholars program, Birk meets with 20 young people each month and speaks with them about life lessons and key educational transitions.
Birk also launched a youth football program, with support from an NFL Youth Football Fund matching grant, at Hope Academy in an underserved area of Minneapolis. In both 2007 and 2008, Birk donated part of his game salary to help retired players in need through the Gridiron Greats assistance fund, and called on other active players to do the same as part of an annual December weekend dubbed Gridiron Guardian Sunday.
Birk, Dawkins and Warner were chosen from the 32 NFL team nominees, all of whom receive a $1,000 donation to the charity of their choice. The three finalists will receive an additional $5,000 donation in their name. The winner will receive the Gladiator statue, an original art creation by noted sculptor Daniel Schwartz, and will receive another $20,000 donation to the charity of his choice.
The selection panel is comprised of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Pro Football Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz, Sports Illustrated football writer Peter King, football greats Frank Gifford and Jack Kemp, 2007 award winner Jason Taylor and Connie Payton.