Ravens C Matt Birk has been named the team's honoree as the 2011 Water Payton Man of the Year. The award is unique among NFL honors because it is the only one that recognizes a current NFL player for outstanding community service activities as well as excellence on the field. A local nominee is named from each of the 32 NFL teams, and a panel of judges, including NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Connie Payton, widow of the late Walter Payton, will choose the eventual national winner.
The anchor of the Ravens' offensive line, Birk has proved to be an undisputed leader on the field and a key asset in the team's locker room. More importantly, the 14-year veteran has established a legacy of philanthropic work that will transcend beyond his years of football.
A father of six young children, Birk manages to find the time to constantly serve his surrounding communities, while adhering to the demanding schedule of a professional athlete.
In 2002, with the Minnesota Vikings, the Harvard graduate established the Matt Birk H.I.K.E. Foundation, which stands for hope, inspiration, knowledge and education. He was the seven-time (2002-08) Vikings' Man of the Year and named one of three finalists for the 2008 NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
Upon his arrival in Baltimore, the veteran center tailored the mission of his H.I.K.E. Foundation to provide at-risk Baltimore-area children with educational opportunities needed to excel in the classroom and, ultimately, in life.
In the fall of 2010, Birk launched the "Ready, Set, Read!" program in select Baltimore-area public schools to motivate and encourage more than 50,000 students to read at home through a system of incentives. As the "Reading Spokesman" for Baltimore City elementary and middle schools, Birk emphasized the significance of literacy and provided a variety of prizes (tickets, lunch, stadium tours, etc.) as an incentive to read.
In conjunction with "Ready, Set, Read!" the perennial Pro Bowler also partnered with Scholastic to form "Read and Rise," the H.I.K.E. Foundation's initiative to join schools, families and communities together in supporting the development of children's literacy. Through collective efforts between the foundation and Clear Channel, more than 15,000 books will be provided to more than 5,000 Title I children throughout the area.
In the fall of 2011, Birk extended the program to Carroll County in an effort to reach 50,000 additional children.
As the local Walter Payton Man of the Year honoree, he will receive $1,000 towards his H.I.K.E. Foundation. The top three finalists, with the announcement to be made this month, will receive an additional $5,000, and the eventual national winner will receive $25,000 towards his respective charity.
For more information on the H.I.K.E. Foundation, please visit www.hikefoundation.org.