Notably absent from the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens’ recent celebratory visit to the White House was the anchor of their offensive line, All-Pro center Matt Birk. The 15-year veteran with a degree in economics from Harvard has been named to six Pro Bowls, but faith and family are his first priorities. When Birk learned that President Obama had invoked God in a speech to Planned Parenthood he knew he had to make a choice.
“I wasn’t there,” Birk explained in a radio interview. “I would say this, I would say that I have great respect for the office of the presidency, but about five or six weeks ago, our president made a comment in a speech and he said, ‘God bless Planned Parenthood.’
“Planned Parenthood performs about 330,000 abortions a year. I am Catholic, I am active in the pro-life movement and I just felt like I couldn’t deal with that. I couldn’t endorse that in any way.”
Birk continued: “For God to bless a place where they’re ending 330,000 lives a year? I just chose not to attend.”
Not so long ago Michael Jordan declined to endorse a Democratic candidate for public office, stating “Republicans buy sneakers, too.” How things have changed! Today, professional athletes are at the forefront of public debates over social issues. In 2012, his Ravens teammate Brendan Ayanbadejo and Minnesota Vikings kicker Chris Kluwe actively lobbied for the redefinition of marriage. (Birk, again acting courageously, spoke against the effort in Maryland.)Earlier this year, NBA journeyman Jason Collins publicly announced his homosexuality, eliciting support from many fellow athletes. Collins’ pronouncement of faith drew respectful disagreement from Christian sportswriter Chris Broussard, who correctly explained that avowed homosexuality is a sin.
More recently, soccer player Robbie Rogers became the first openly-homosexual male to play in a professional league.
Athletes are entertainers, and in our culture of amusement their opinions matter. Policies are products. When your salespeople embody the virtues of consumer culture (beautiful, talent, wealth) your product sells. As I’ve written before, we are no longer engaged in a battle of ideas; this is a beauty contest. And because great beauty can be used to sell terrible ideas, it is time for conservatives to leave the safe harbors of Constitutional Hall and Mecosta, Michigan for Hollywood and Nashville.
Men like Matt Birk and Chris Broussard speak the truth at great personal cost, but to great effect. We owe them a debt of gratitude. And we should do more to encourage others in our coalition who know the truth and have a platform to speak up. Signing the Manhattan Declaration would be a good place to start! (www.manhattandeclaration.org)