Inspiring Knights in the NFL
2/1/2019By Andrew Butler
They say teamwork makes the dream work. With Super Bowl LIII this weekend, take a look at a few inspiring NFL players and coaches who also wear the jersey of another team: the Knights of Columbus.
This famous Packers coach is the namesake of the Lombardi trophy, but did you know that he spent two years in seminary, studied law at Fordham University, and taught Latin, algebra and physics at St. Cecilia’s, a Catholic high school in New Jersey? After coaching football at West Point, he became an assistant coach with the New York Giants.
In 1958, Lombardi became the coach of the Green Bay Packers. The Packers won five NFL championships under Lombardi, as well as the first two Super Bowls in 1967 and 1968.
A Fourth Degree Knight, Lombardi brought his Catholic players to Mass while on the road. He also served in a number of community leadership roles, including as chairman of the Cancer Fund and president of the Wisconsin Mental Health Association.
When Harrison Butker arrived at Georgia Tech in 2013, he probably never imagined that by the time he graduated, he would be drafted to the NFL or for that matter that he would become a member of the Knights of Columbus.
Though Butker was thriving on the football field at Georgia Tech, he increasingly felt frustrated and lonely. An occasional churchgoer during his high school years, Butker entered college separated from the Church. That separation failed to bring him happiness.
Through his friendship with teammate Grant Aasen — now a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Atlanta — Butker began to learn about the joy that comes with the Catholic faith.
“I started to see how someone could actually be happy as a practicing Catholic, because I was getting a clearer perspective on the nature of God and man revealed through the Church,” Butker said. “I started going to Mass with Grant and then went to confession for the first time since second grade.”
Butker and Aasen graduated as brother Knights in May 2017, each with a degree in industrial engineering. After being drafted by the Carolina Panthers in April 2017, Butker signed with the Kansas City Chiefs in September of that same year. His first game with the team, which was also his first regular season appearance as a pro, included a game-winning 43-yard field goal against the Washington Redskins.
Butker and his wife recently celebrated the birth of a baby boy, James Augustine Butker.
Matt Birk is a 15-year veteran of the NFL, recipient of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award, devoted Catholic and member of Knights of Columbus Council 4184. With the Baltimore Ravens, he won Super Bowl XLVII against the San Francisco 49ers. Since retiring from football in 2013, he has been active in the pro-life movement, having spoken multiple times at the March for Life in Washington, D.C.
Birk serves on the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Game for Life National Advisory Board, and works with the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, the After the Impact Fund and the Wakota Pregnancy Center in West St. Paul, Minn. He and his wife, Adrianna, are the proud parents of eight children.
Birk gave an inspiring speech at the recent K of C College Councils Conference. Check out the video here.
Chris Godfrey began his professional football career with a number of setbacks. After getting cut from the Washington Redskins, he signed with the New York Jets. When he injured his knee the following year, he was let go. The Packers made him an offer and then, after reconsidering, withdrew it the next day.
It was then that Godfrey got on his knees and prayed. It was the first time he really took his faith seriously.
After that moment, Godfrey found success in the NFL, a highlight being winning the Super Bowl with the New York Giants in 1987.
Then, with help from the Knights of Columbus, he made a pro-life video featuring NFL players. It served as the beginning of Godfrey’s organization, Life Athletes, which gives athletes a platform to share their faith with young people.
K of C councils play a role in Life Athletes’ youth camps assisting with registration, food preparation and cleanup.
Godfrey is a member of Santa Maria Council 553 in South Bend, Ind.
A large part of football’s appeal is in watching two teams at the height of greatness battle it out with all their strength of body and soul. We should esteem these Knights’ athleticism as well as their charitable efforts.
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