He’s a gentleman and a scholar, and for at least another year, one of the NFL’s better interior offensive lineman. Longtime Vikings and Ravens center, Matt Birk, has refuted the media created rumors that he’d be hanging it up after this past season and is instead extending what has already been an illustrious 15-year career.
Birk joined KFAN in Minneapolis to talk about how the false rumors of his impending retirement were created, why he’s decided to continue playing, dealing internally with the known risks of playing football as he decides to carry on, where he stands on the Gregg Williams and the Saints’ bounty scandal, and his reaction to the Junior Seau tragedy and the implications the sad story will have on the game.
On how the media rumor that he was going to retire start and if he was upset that the media had manufactured the false rumor:
“That’s the media today. The old 24 hour news cycle as you guys call it. Stuff happens. After a playoff game we had won, we beat the Houston Texans and I was happy and figured I wouldn’t have to talk to the media because I didn’t do much. And all of a sudden all of these guys come bum-rushing me and telling me this guy was on TV saying that I was for sure retiring after this season. So just to spite him I decided to keep playing.”
How much longer does he think he will in fact play:
“I would doubt that it would be this long, but who knows? I never thought I would last one year.”
On how much all the research about the impacts of playing the game weighs on him as he continues on with his career:
“Well, a lot. You’re definitely torn as a player. You can look at something and if you take the emotion out of it, you can say why would I do this again and put myself at risk? Obviously there’s some breakthroughs the past few years with…and it’s unfortunate because of some of the tragedies that have happened and as we start to learn more about what football does to your body and your brain and your spine. And you kind of think, well, you can take the facts and the data and say ‘I shouldn’t play, why would anyone do this?’ But you take the flip side, and players love to play the game, it’s a labor of love, it’s a very hard game, you spend 95 percent of your time practicing or lifting weights and running, and only five percent playing the games which is the fun and it’s only fun when you win. But there’s just something about it that I can’t put into words very well, but it’s fun.”
On where he stands on the Gregg Williams Bounty Scandal and if he thinks the story has been overblown:
“We talk about making football safer, we want to make it safer, but it’s not….I guess it’s what you compare it to, but it’s not a safe game, especially when you’re talking about the types of athletes that are playing at the professional level. I mean, the human body was probably not created to withstand the physical beating that you take playing football. And who knows what the facts are, the evidence and all that, with the bounty scandal, but that kind of stuff where you’re giving guys money and you’re holding them up and praising them, to me that just feels dirty. And yeah football is tough and a lot of things happen on the field, but there is a code, there’s a respect amongst players. You get geared up to go against an offensive lineman, or a defensive lineman who’s big and strong and fast, and you’re almost like programmed all week that the guy is your focus, you don’t really see him as a human being, it’s just he’s your job this week. But when the game’s over, you go up to him and shake his hand, you look him in the eye, you have respect for him, and you wish him well. And one thing players always tell each other after the game as you’re shaking hands is stay healthy, and to me I guess, if the bounty thing happened to the degree that it did, that violates the code.”
His thoughts on the Junior Seau tragedy:
“Obviously extremely tragic. He was an icon in Southern California, but also throughout the league. I mean, the guy played for 20 years in the National Football League and he played at a ridiculously high level. It’s obviously sad and I think that unfortunately maybe…he was playing just two years ago, so everyone who watches football knows who Junior Seau was. He’s such a high profile player that I think we owe it to him and everybody else to just continue to have these discussions to try to improve our game both on and off the field as far as trying to take care of players not just as players but also as human beings. And no, I’m not trying to assume or insinuate anything about Junior Seau’s situation, but it’s not a secret that a lot of players struggle after football is over. And we’ve also seen that with a lot of older players coming forward and having a lot of bitterness towards the league and the union. I think we need to try to figure some things out and try to help guys out and treat them as people as a whole and try to make football a very positive experience for them and try to help them do better things as football ends and their lives continue.”