Monday, July 06, 2009

Birk Serious, Funny in MMQB Fill-In

I guess I shouldn't be too surprised. After all, Matt Birk did go to Harvard.

Birk, an All-Pro center who spent many years with the Vikings before signing this spring with Baltimore, had an interesting job to undertake over the weekend.

Sports Illustrated ace football writer Peter King is on his annual pre-training camp vacation. It's usually the only time of year that his weekly Monday Morning Quarterback column isn't updated on SI's website.

In his stead this month, guest writers have been lined up to file MMQB columns. This week's choice is Birk, who had much to say. He was able to get some strong feelings out there regarding the need for current NFL players to do more for retired players who have fallen on hard times. This very serious -- and very noble -- topic couldn't ask for a better spokesman in Birk.
An alarming number of former players live in physical and mental pain because of injuries suffered while playing -- some with symptoms that didn't manifest until long after their NFL careers were over. These men have had to exhaust their savings in order to receive medical care for their ailments, achieving a quality of life most of us would not deem bearable. A good number are in such physical anguish it prevents them from securing any type of employment. They can't get health insurance because their conditions are conveniently categorized as "pre-existing." The odds of getting disability through the NFL are about as likely as hitting the lotto. Factor in the fact that a lot of these men have wives and young kids, and their stories are heartbreaking. I have seen these guys with my own eyes and heard their stories with my own ears. You might not read about this very often, but this problem is real.

This bothers me because everyone associated with the NFL is making money. Under the current system, about two percent of the revenues being paid to players go toward retired players. So why can't we give a bigger piece of the pie to the players of yesteryear? Well, the owners pay a negotiated percentage of revenues to the players. They feel like they already give up enough. The NFLPA wants the money to go to current players because football salaries already lag behind their baseball and basketball counterparts, for which the NFLPA catches heat. So, if this problem is going to be remedied it's going to have to come from the current players.

We need to make the former players a priority. In the NFL, where contracts are not guaranteed and everyone is one play away from a career-ending injury, I don't fault players for being focused on the present. But it's our responsibility to leave this game better than we found it. Players today should hope future generations will do the same for us. Every former player who suffers the effects of football-related injuries should have the basics -- food, shelter, clothing and medical care. This is the least we can do.
As expected, Birk pretty much nailed it here. The current players should feel an obligation to do much more than they have, and it would be nice to see some younger guys take on Birk's cause. He won't play forever, but it will always mean more if current players were carrying the baton on this issue.

Birk wasn't all serious in the piece. He took time out to lob a couple of funnies, one of them in the direction of Brett Favre's impending signing with Birk's former team.
I think Favre will play for the Vikings this year. This will start a civil war between Minnesota and Wisconsin. A truce will be reached in this epic border battle after it is discovered at a tailgate party that Johnsonville Brats (Wisconsin) and Grain Belt Beer (Minnesota) are perfect complements for each other.
He also was able to poke some fun at himself.
I think the Fourth of July always signifies the beginning of the end of my summer. A couple weeks until the beginning of training camp and, maybe like you, I am way behind on my summer projects. I need to get going on those because once the season starts, I am not much use around the house. Just ask my wife. She might tell you I am not much good in the offseason, either.
Birk set a high standard for the guest writers who are set to follow over the rest of the month. Hopefully, the guys who are left are able to have some fun with the job.

In the end, though, MMQB just isn't the same without King. He has a mile-long list of contacts, understands the game, and isn't afraid to lay out controversial opinions. Still one of the best in the business.

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