https://www.dailywire.com/news/super-bowl-champ-on-founding-a-catholic-school-plan-to-tweak-education

With a Super Bowl ring, six Pro Bowl appearances, and a degree from Harvard, Matt Birk had racked up a lifetime of laurels before opening a high school three years ago. Now he has his sights set on politics.

Birk, who spent 15 years as a center battling in the NFL trenches before retiring in 2012, opened Unity High School in Burnsville, Minnesota, with his wife, Adrianna, in 2019. He founded the Catholic high school, which currently fields students in grades 9-11, to “tweak” the way kids are educated. 

I think the education system still is heavily predicated on memorization, a regurgitation of facts of information,” Birk, 45, told The Daily Wire. “But today, everybody’s got a supercomputer in their pocket so you can figure out what the capital of Argentina is real quick. So that, and then just how kids live today and being digital creatures, really focusing and cultivating some of these social and emotional intelligence skills.” 

Birk, who is running for lieutenant governor alongside gubernatorial candidate Scott Jenson on the Republican ticket, said his leadership experience more than makes up for the fact that he is a political novice.

“I think that’s the biggest thing with that position and I think that’s what’s lacking right now in the state of Minnesota is leadership,” he told WCCO radio in an interview last month. “Leadership is invisible until it isn’t and anybody can lead when things are good, when things are fine, but we’ve had some things happen.”

While Birk hopes to put his stamp on Minnesota through elected office, he becomes animated when he talks about his faith and hands-on effort to improve education through his school’s unique approach to blending scholarship and life skills.

“Our model, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, we do all the traditional academic classes, but then on Wednesdays, we don’t do any of that,” Birk said. “We do character, leadership, life entrepreneurship. Our principal happens to be a licensed contractor, so kids are swinging hammers or we’ll do real-world math, talk about mortgages and stocks. We had somebody show up, a mechanic, and show the kids how to change a tire and change the oil in a car. Different types of learning.”

Birk’s desire to give back is rooted in his own experience, going from standout football, basketball and track athlete and scholar at St. Paul’s Cretin-Derham Hall High School to the Ivy League and then on to an illustrious gridiron career capped by a Super Bowl championship with the Baltimore Ravens in his final season.

“For me, going to Catholic school, I was taught who made me, what He did for me, and what He expected of me,” Birk said. “I was taught that He had a plan for my life. Just having that foundation, I felt loved, there was a purpose, and I always knew that when bad things happen — which they’re going to happen to everybody — it’s a fact of life, there’s going to be adversity and suffering. I knew there was a reason for that. It was just incredibly valuable for me as a kid.”

Birk worries that kids growing up today must deal with distractions that weren’t part of his own childhood, but believes the key to getting through remains the same: Faith.

“You look at kids today, and the secularization of our culture … all the things they’re dealing with on social media, no wonder that their mental health has never been worse,” Birk said. “But also, if young people ever needed to know about God, ever needed to be soaked in the gospel, this is the time.”

Birk, who entered the NFL as a sixth-round draft choice of the hometown Minnesota Vikings, said his faith was never out of place in the locker room during his career. It was common for players to lean on their religious beliefs to get through the grueling schedule, injuries, and emotions of the NFL, he said.

“The locker room is a very spiritual place,” Birk said. “Just about everybody had a Bible in their locker room, every team I played on had a team chaplain. There were a bunch of Bible studies every week, three of the four head coaches I played for were Catholic, so we had Catholic mass. It’s really probably one of the few workplaces where you’re actually encouraged to grow in your faith while you’re at work.”

Without faith to lean on, the fast money and rollercoaster ride of professional sports can destroy lives, noted Birk, who received the 2011 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award.

“The NFL, none of it’s real,” he said. “The money’s not real, the fame. It’s super intense, it’s super competitive, it’s dangerous, and you have these high highs and these low lows.”

“So, my faith was never a problem because most guys there were just like me,” he said. “They’re trying to figure it out, they’re trying to walk closer to God, trying to balance the temptations.”

Joe Morgan is the Sports Reporter for The Daily Wire. Most recently, Morgan covered the Clippers, Lakers, and the NBA for Sporting News. Send your sports questions to sports@dailywire.com.

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