And The Payton Winner Is…

Birk.jpgBy Emari Traffie–2/4/2012
Ravens center Matt Birk is the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year.
The award honors the late Chicago Bears legend Walter Payton by recognizing NFL athletes for excellence on and off the field. NFL Charities gave Birk $20,000 toward the charity of his choice. Each of the 32 nominees received $1,000 for their favorite causes, and the three finalists each received $5,000.
Tonight, the 14-year NFL veteran accepted the award at the NFL Honors. This was the league’s first award show. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced 35-year-old Birk as the winner.
“The great Walter Payton knew that spotlight could be used to bring awareness and aid to those in need,” Goodell said at the ceremony. “Thirteen years ago, Matt Birk was a second string center from Minnesota looking for a way to give back.”
The Harvard grad has done just that by founding “Ready, Set, Read” through the HIKE foundation. The program’s goal is to motivate and encourage elementary school children to read. Also, Birk says he will donate his brain and spinal cord tissue for head trauma research to the Center for Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University’s School of Medicine.
Staying true to character, he shied away from pictures after receiving the award saying, “I’m not that good looking, so… questions?”
Payton has always been a role model for Birk.
“I remember, you know, being in the backyard or in the street playin’ ball,” said Birk. “You always call out who you are and it was always ‘Walter Payton.’ He was just synonymous with the best.”
The six-time Pro Bowler has a cleared the path this season for Ray Rice to become second in rushing yards.
Recent recipients of the award include Saints quarterback Drew Brees, 2011 and 2006, Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, 2008, and Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, 2005.