Charlie Batch isn’t a household name among NFL fans. But the 15-year veteran Pittsburgh Steelers backup quarterback joins some of the NFL’s biggest names as the 2012 recipient of the Byron “Whizzer’’ White Award.
The award, presented annually by the NFL Players Association, honors work in the community and goes to the NFL player who best served his team, community and country in the spirit of Byron “Whizzer’’ White, who was an associate of the Supreme Court and humanitarian following his professional football career with the Pittsburgh Pirates (the forerunner of the Steelers) and the Detroit Lions.
Batch, who grew up in Homestead, Pa., which is just 16 miles from Three Rivers Stadium where the Steelers used to play, was honored for his work with the Best of Batch Foundation and the Batch Development Company.
“It’s truly an unexpected blessing,’’ he says. “I didn’t expect to win. I was grateful to be nominated with the people [who] were there. As the process went on, it was surprising and caught me off guard. People see what you do and appreciate it. This ranks up there pretty high with other awards that I have received.’’
The Best of Batch Foundation has raised more than $1.2 million since it was founded in 1999, and it touches more than 1,000 kids in a calendar year.
The foundation’s largest program is Project C.H.U.C.K (Continuously Helping Uplift Community Kids). Its goal is to provide youth with the resources they need to give their best effort in all that they do. The program, which operates four days a week during the summer, is for youth ages 7-18 and accommodates more than 365 youngsters who play 20 basketball games during a six-week period. It also incorporates a summer reading program.
Batch founded the Batch Foundation in 1999 while playing for the Detroit Lions, who chose him in the second round of the 1998 NFL Draft. He was moved to give back to the community after his 17-year-old sister, Danyl Settles, was killed in 1996 when she was caught in crossfire between rival gangs in Homestead. He hoped that his foundation would provide youth an alternative to the streets and the violence that comes with them.
“I said at that moment that if I ever was in a position to give back, I would,’’ Batch says, adding that he would never want another family to experience the feelings that he and his family experienced when his sister was killed. “She was 17. She never had a chance to live.”
Other foundation programs include:
- The Best of Batch Club, which rewards students in grades K-8 who demonstrate excellence in school work, attendance, behavior and extra-curricular activities with a field trip to the Pro Football Hall of Fame with Batch as their host.
- Batch-A-Toys, an annual toy drive that benefits Toys for Tots.
- D&R Sportsmanship Program, an initiative that promotes positive behavior in K-12 schools and youth programs and encourages participants to treat everyone with dignity and respect.
- Next Level Athletics Track Club, a member of USA Track & Field Three Rivers Association, enables males and females ages 7-18 to compete in sanctioned meets around the country while promoting academic development, self-esteem and confidence.
“We’ve been able to create programs that people believe in,’’ he says. “It uses sports to draw kids in, but it keeps the focus on education. We want to be a constant reminder to push these kids beyond their expectations. We want to make sure we’re keeping these kids off the streets. It allows them to get off the streets and teaches them core values.’’
Batch is also involved in the community through Best Development Company, which reinvests back into the Pittsburgh community by creating jobs and career opportunities and also partners with local businesses to help residents with home ownership.
Batch went through an arduous selection process and was chosen from a pool of players who were first nominated for a PULSE Award by their teammates for their service on and off the field. Each PULSE winner was invited to submit an application in order to receive a donation for his foundation or a charity of his choice. From that group, a group of peer panelists reviewed the applications and selected five finalists.
The other finalists were Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman, Minnesota Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway and Cleveland Browns tight end Benjamin Watson. Batch joins a list of recipients that includes Payton Manning, Steve McNair, Reggie White, Cris Carter, Ozzie Newsome, Archie Manning, Roger Staubach, Gale Sayers, Willie Davis and Bart Starr.
“I know this is not me by myself,’’ Batch says. “This is the collaboration of a lot of efforts. I just get the recognition for it.’’
Batch joined the Steelers in 2002 as a free agent after the Detroit Lions released him, signing a one-year contract. He fully expected to move on after his first season back with the team, but one season became two and two has become 12. Even though he hasn’t gotten a lot of playing time while backing up Ben Roethlisberger, Batch says playing for his hometown team has been special. He has been on two Super Bowl championship teams, and he is able to be intimately involved with the work that his foundation does in Homestead.
“It allows me to be hands on in everything that I do,’’ he says. “That’s what makes it special. I am able to be part of it, and people are able to see me on a regular basis.’’
Batch is widely respected as a leader by his teammates and peers around the league and is active in the players’ union. He is Executive Committee Vice President for the NFLPA and has also served the union as a player representative. Because of his involvement with the union, he has a strong interest in the direction the NFL is heading in terms of player safety and the rules changes that are being implemented.
“I think things are headed in the right direction,’’ he says. “Everybody understands that we need to be educated more about the issues that are going on with our game that obviously affect players’ health when you’re done playing. As long as we continue to be educated, not only at the NFL level, it needs to trickle down to youth football .If you’re able to teach those kids how to tackle and the proper techniques, it will eventually transition to high school, college and the pros.’’
A number of recent rules changes – outlawing hitting the quarterback and defenseless receivers quickly come to mind – seem to favor offenses and have been a hot topic of discussion on sports talk shows. Batch says that over time, the rules changes won’t be that big of a deal. In the short term, they are doing what they were intended to do – create greater safety and making it easier for offenses to score.
“There’s more scoring, which fans love,’’ he says. “It puts defenses at a disadvantage because there are times they (defenders) don’t necessarily know how to hit or tackle somebody. It’s just one of those things that comes back to educating people and breaking some of those habits that people have had throughout their careers. If you continue to do that, it will eventually swing back to the defensive side. But right now the NFL is getting what it wants, more points, and I think that’s pretty much what fans want. The fans are happy.’’
The NFL has long been described as a league of trends. Batch says the rules changes that have been put into place to help offenses is just another of those trends, just like the Pistol Offense that the Washington Redskins run with Robert Griffin III and the Seattle Seahawks use with Russell Wilson as their quarterbacks.
“Offenses are ahead,’’ Batch says. “Defenses will catch up. They usually do. Right now this Pistol is what people are gearing toward, just like the Wildcat a couple of years ago. That eventually faded. This Pistol Offense people are in will last a little longer because of the mobile quarterbacks that are in college. The downside of that is you won’t see a bunch of quarterbacks with long careers.’’
If Batch’s assessment is accurate, he could be the last of the buffaloes. He was the second oldest quarterback in the league behind Tennessee Titans backup Kerry Collins during the 2012 season. He attributes his longevity to “a lot of blessings, taking care of my body, the power of massage and understanding that you can’t burn the candle on both ends.’’
He showed that he still has some game left when he guided the Steelers to a 23-20 win.
Batch started two games during the 2012 season while Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich, the Steelers’ No. 2 quarterback, were injured. He guided the Steelers to a crucial 23-20 road victory against their AFC North Division rivals, the Baltimore Ravens, who went on to win Super Bowl XLVII in Week 13. Batch completed 25 of 36 passes for 276 and a touchdown, and he also engineered a 61-yard drive in the closing minutes to setup Shaun Suisham’s 42-yard field goal as time expired.
“I’ll play until my body tells me I can’t play anymore,’’ he says. “I know I can play next year, so I plan on playing next season. At this point I take it year to year.’’