Birk named Walter Payton Man of the Year

February, 4, 2012
2/04/12
9:30
PM ET
INDIANAPOLIS -- Matt Birk has been named a Pro Bowl center six times. He has been a part of eight playoff teams.

Birk
But the achievement that epitomizes Birk as a person was given to him tonight -- the Walter Payton Man of the Year award. It recognizes his work on and off the field.

Birk has represented reliability among NFL linemen, starting 96 consecutive games. That the NFL’s second-longest active streak among centers.

This doesn't come close to the impact that he's made in the community. Birk's "Ready, Set, Read!" program, an initiative of his H.I.K.E. Foundation (hope, inspiration, knowledge and education), reaches close to 100,000 children in the Baltimore area and motivates students to read at home through an incentive-based system.

He also continues to be an advocate for concussion awareness and prevention and has pledged to donate his brain and spinal cord tissues to a Boston University medical school program that studies sports brain injuries.

"I am honored and truly humbled to be named the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year,” Birk said. “This award is not about the recipient, but rather a celebration of the decades-long tradition of NFL players using their unique platform to touch lives and make a positive and lasting impact in the communities in which they work and live."

Birk added, "Walter Payton left a legacy that went beyond the playing field. He continues to be an inspiration and example of what a complete NFL player should aspire to become. I am grateful to have played for two organizations, the Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens, which encourage and support their players' community efforts. I have always considered it a privilege to play in the NFL and serve the communities that support our game."

Other finalists for the award were Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and Bears cornerback Charles Tillman.

As the winner of the Walter Payton Man of the Year award, Birk will receive a $20,000 donation in his name to his favorite charity. He will be recognized on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium tomorrow before the kickoff of the Super Bowl. Birk is the first Ravens player to win this award and the first from a team in the AFC North since 2001 (the Steelers' Jerome Bettis).

Birk said Friday that he will make a decision in a couple of weeks on whether to retire or return to the Ravens.

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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