Sheila Ford Hamp: The Responsibility of Ownership

Sheila Ford Hamp, principal owner of the Detroit Lions, spoke to Dave Brickett of the Detroit Free Press in October 2021 in the wake of an event honoring Lions Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson, where the fans loudly vented their frustrations with ownership. “Obviously, no one likes to be booed, but I totally understand it… And I’m as frustrated as the fans are and I appreciate their sentiment and hopefully what we’re trying to do here will turn to cheers one day.”

Hamp continued, reflecting her feelings about long-suffering and loyal Lions fans. “We do have fabulous fans as we all know and they’ve stuck with us forever through thick and thin, and a lot of thin. It’s been hard, so I agree. And this year (2021), it’s a rebuild, it’s painful. We knew it was going to be hard, but it’s hard to lose. No one likes to lose. I hate to lose, but we are working on things and I think we’ve got a good path.”

Tell the truth

Two years later, Hamp’s words echo the enthusiasm that Lions fans, just beginning their 66th year without a championship, are feeling now. The Lions started their season against the defending Super Bowl champs, the Kansas City Chiefs. The game marked the official season’s kickoff, indicating that not only fans believe the Honolulu Blue and Silver, but league officials do, too.

And the Lions delivered on the hype, downing the Chiefs 21-20. The game was a see-saw affair, but it is evident as it has been for the past couple of years, this team has no quit. It reflects the hard-nosed approach that head coach Dan Campbell brings to the team. As a former player – and one-time Lion – Campbell understands how to bring out the best in his players and coaches. As general manager, Brad Holmes is in his first job as GM, but he has drafted good players and positioned the team for future success.

How Hamp leads

Hamp, however, has yet to receive her due. Sheila played varsity tennis for Yale, just like her father, William Clay Ford, the long-time owner of the Lions, who passed away in 2014. According to The Athletic, Sheila wanted to work for the NFL when she graduated in 1973, but was denied the opportunity due to her gender.

Hamp is not one to shy from the heat. “I think that would be a stupid thing to do is to hide because I really don’t feel like I need to hide,” she said. “It’s part of what I’m trying to change around here, which is the open, communicative culture and I’m part of it.” And the culture is changing.

After the Lions closed out last season with a win at Lambeau Field over the hated Green Bay Packers, Dan Campbell gave Hamp a big hug and shouted for all to her in the locker room. “I’m just telling you, I’m just freakin’ telling you — I’ve been around as a player and a coach in this league. We’ve got the best owner. Everything you could possibly need, every resource — she thinks about you guys all the time, man, she knows everything about you; she’s rock solid and as good as they come.”

We will know more about the team as the season unfolds, but one thing is sure: Sheila Ford Hamp is playing the proper role – guiding, supporting, leading. “She’s competitive,” added Campbell. “And, boy, she loves to win.” And it will take that kind of competitive drive to push the Lions forward this season and for seasons to come.

First posted on 9.14.2023