Matt Birk Discusses His New Book And The Ethical Issues In The NFL
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Retired, six-time Pro Bowl center and Superbowl XLVII champion with the Baltimore Ravens and Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award winner, Matt Birk joined Ed and Steve on the Norris and Davis show to discuss his new book, “All-Pro Wisdom: The 7 Choices that Lead to Greatness,” on self improvement and the ethical issues revolving around the NFL.
Ed asks Matt why he wrote his book and who the people are that it might help. Matt said that when he looked around the league and at the public and saw people who aren’t confident or aren’t being steered in the right direction, he wanted to write a book on how to help all people make the right life choices to be a better person.
“When I stopped and looked around and I saw the NFL and I see it every day and as do you. People don’t have enough confidence, people don’t have enough passion, stability, focus, strength to overcome self-limitations, they don’t have proper guidance and they’re not committed to getting better. That’s what the 7 choices is about. It’s 7 questions. It’s not a difficult read, I mean these are heavy topics but it’s a very light touch. You can read it cover to cover in 90 minutes. We use football to tell stories and to get the point across. We’ve interviewed a couple perennial super-stars, all-pros in the NFL: Aaron Rogers, Jason Witten, Anquan Boldin, Troy Polamalu, Joe Flacco, the commissioner wrote the forward and was interviewed for the book. All these people shared what they know about these topics.”
Steve asked Matt if his book is meant to be followed step by step. Matt says that his book is more of a guide but each persons personal issues is different and that the book provides support on sensitive topics for young people and adults. Matt goes on to talk about the book as a tool. While the book asks the reader to become introspective and think about choices, the book can be used by parents, teachers, and coaches to open up a conversation in a non-threatening way with their children or young people about these serious topics.
“Instead of sitting your son down and saying, ‘Alright son, I want to talk to you about identity,’ and your son rolls his eyes. You can say, ‘Jared Allen says ‘Football is what he does, it’s not who he is.’ What do you think Jared Allen means by that?’ It’s a tool also to equip dads or coaches or anybody in any kind of position of influence over young people, which all adults are in some form, to start these important conversations in very non-threatening ways.”
Ed goes into the topic of the new rules the league’s rules committee is considering about language on the field. He asks Matt if this rule about racial slurs is just opening the league up to more rules in the future to protect other groups from things like homosexual remarks. Can language actually be cleaned up on the field and is it practical?
Matt responded, “It is, but a very good point was brought up, I was sitting in on the competitions committee last week in Indianapolis, and a very good point was brought up by a player ‘You can’t just say we’re going to outlaw these words for 3 hours on a Sunday. If you want to get rid of these words in the game, you need to get the words out of the culture.’ That means you start, not just on Sundays, it’s Monday through Saturday as well.” He goes on to say, “We are talking about this word because of what happened with the Miami Dolphins. There’s going to be some changes going on and some standards put in place. I think it’s a great thing… I’m sensitive because I have kids, but I think football players, we’re role models and we have to conduct ourselves accordingly. That’s not to say that all of us, none of us are going to live up to that standard 100% of the time but that’s ok. That’s why we put these standards in place, to make all of us better.”
Steve asked Matt if he ever felt uncomfortable while in the locker room and music was blaring and the N-word would come out. Steve admitted that it would him uncomfortable and sometimes ruined the audio from an interview because the clip would then be unusable. Steve wanted to know if, as a white player, if the use of that word made him uncomfortable.
“At first when I came in the league, yes, but I guess like anything you become desensitized to it. Obviously, I don’t use that word. But I guess you just become used to it and that’s unfortunate… I think to a man, if we were just all to agree, I think it would make our game better if we we could eliminate that from the culture.”
Matt goes on to make a few comments on the Ray Rice situation. He echoes what many players have said on the matter, that Ray is a great guy and the situation is unfortunate.
Michael Sam is another hot-button topic around the NFL right now but when asked about it, Matt Birk said that it’s only being made into a big deal when it’s not. He claims he has played with “a lot of gay players and it was maybe the worst kept secret around.” He says that the only big deal is going to be the attention it gets from the media after he’s drafted. If it overtakes the football aspect of his life and becomes about an off-field topic, such as his sexuality, then it will be a negative. Other than that it shouldn’t be an issue.