The Ravens don’t play their first preseason game until three months from now, and veteran players aren’t obligated to be in Baltimore until a mandatory minicamp next month. But that hasn’t stopped many of the players from taking an active role in the community during their downtime this offseason. Matt Birk’s charity event on Monday night was a great example.
Birk hosted his third annual Ravens celebrity servers dinner at Morton’s downtown. He and several of his teammates served drinks and dinner to guests and signed autographs. Proceeds from ticket sales and an auction that included autographed helmets, jerseys and other memorabilia benefit Birk’s HIKE Foundation, which provides at-risk children with educational opportunities.
Such community service isn’t required, but the Ravens certainly encourage players to give back.
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“They want us out here doing things. Most guys realize how lucky we are to be doing what we do for a living and also recognize the unique platform that we have,” Birk said. “I mean, it’s not hard for us to show up for one night and do some things and raise a bunch of money. We’re lucky in that regard. But it starts with ownership and our coaches. They preach about getting out there and doing great things. When I came here three years ago, it was evident that this town loves the Ravens, so we’re happy to give people an opportunity to get behind us and support our causes.”
What struck me was the caliber of the players who showed up Monday to support their teammate and a good cause. There were quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice, two young faces of the franchise who are engaged in contract talks with the team, chatting with fans. There was cornerback Lardarius Webb, who recently signed a $50 million extension, posing for pictures. And there were offensive tackle Michael Oher and wide receiver Torrey Smith, who both give back as much as they can after enduring challenging upbringings, serving up steak dinners.
Tight end Dennis Pitta, linebacker Paul Kruger and Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda, who all figure to be major contributors to the Ravens this coming season, also moonlighted as celebrity servers.
“It just goes hand in hand with the type of people you are around. We like to come out here and support each other,” Kruger said. “It’s pretty cool to come and meet new people and be a part of something special. I like to be a part of this stuff. I think it makes for a well-rounded person.”
It was one of a handful of community events in the past couple of weeks. Jah Reid and Josh Bynes served lunch to the homeless. Tyrod Taylor hosted a youth football camp. Coach John Harbaugh and many others supported O.J. Brigance at his annual Fiesta 5K that funds ALS research. And Kruger participated in the Kidney Walk for the National Kidney Foundation.
Rice, who hosted an anti-bullying forum in Howard County last weekend and who will bring his "Ray Rice Day" to Calvert Hall on Saturday, feels that community service is a player’s obligation.
“Part of our job is playing the game as well as possible, but part of our job is also giving back to the community,” Rice said. “I feel like the Ravens, our family, we do a great job of giving back.”