SUPER BOWL CHAMPION TACKLES INTERSECTION OF FAITH AND FOOTBALL
As an NFL player for 15 years, Matt Birk enjoyed a long, successful career, winning the Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens in 2013 and being named to the Pro Bowl six times.
Birk, 43, who played football at Harvard University before he was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in 1998, is also a devout Catholic who was recognized for his community service work by winning the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award in 2011.
Birk remains passionate about his Catholic faith and is active in the pro-life movement. He and his wife, Adrianna, live in St. Paul, Minnesota, with their eight children, ages 2-16. Birk is a featured speaker at the Legatus Summit in January. He recently spoke with Legatus magazine.
What will you be speaking on at the Summit?
People are surprised to learn that football is a very spiritual game. The locker room is a very spiritual place. The NFL is this huge thing. It’s a highly visible job and you experience very high highs and very low lows. As a player, there’s a certain element of danger because it’s a physical game. For a lot of guys, myself included, faith is actually strengthened by playing football.
You have to tap into that because otherwise it’s really hard to survive in this fantasy world that’s the NFL, where you have money, fame, and all these people telling you how great you are. You need an anchor, something that keeps you grounded and keeps you focused on what’s real and what’s the truth. That’s where my Catholic faith came into play.
How did you become a practicing Catholic during your NFL career?
I went to a Bible study and started asking some questions. The chaplain mentioned that he used to be Catholic but that he left the faith. I took it personally from the standpoint that, “Geez, I better figure out what I believe.” That put me on my own personal quest for truth. I dug deeper, learned more and began to really appreciate the faith and sort of claimed it as my own.
What did you discover that made you claim the Catholic faith as your own?
Reading some of the arguments against the Church, I realized that the Scripture passage is true, that the Church is the pillar of Truth and that it will prevail against the gates of hell. All the things that have happened in the Church and all the sins of men 2000 years later, the Church is still thriving. To me, that was kind of like the truth that the Church is real, that it is the Church that Jesus established and that it will prevail over all evil.
What was it like to win a Super Bowl?
With that Ravens team in particular, three years prior we had gotten close but lost some games in heart-breaking fashion. There was a feeling on that team that we were all brought together at that time for some reason, that God was at work. There was this belief that there was a purpose to everything we were doing.
Were people surprised to learn that an NFL Pro Bowl offensive lineman attended Harvard University?
Oh yes, especially back then. Anytime they mentioned me on TV, they’d say, “Oh, Matt Birk went to Harvard.” It became sort of my tagline.
How did you get involved in pro-life work?
I speak a lot at pro-life events. I’m on the board of a life center here in the Twin Cities. I spoke at the March for Life a few times. I’m just trying to use my gifts and my platform to advocate for the unborn.
Have you had any prior interaction with Legatus?
I’ve known Legatus for a long time. I spoke at the Legatus Chapter in Naples, Florida last year. Legatus is a great organization. In the workplace, Legatus can be a gateway to the Gospel. I think it’s a great organization to help people stay the course.