Ford stepping down as Lions owner, daughter taking over
DETROIT (AP) - Sheila Ford Hamp visited NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle in 1973 after being part of the first class of women who went to Yale as a freshman and graduated. She told him all she ever wanted to do was work for the league.
As the daughter of the Detroit Lions owner, she'd met the late Rozelle by sitting next to him for a couple of dinners and taking part in many of the same events as him.
However, their gender proved to be an obstacle that connections could not overcome.
"He literally couldn't think of anything a woman could do at that time," she recalled Tuesday. '' Things have changed a lot. And I think it's great. ''
Hamp takes over the main owner and chair of the Lions and succeeds her mother when she steps down from the management of the NFL franchise. Hamp insisted her 94-year-old mother made the decision, adding that she was healthy.
"This was a long-planned change of ownership," said team president Rod Wood.
The Lions announced that Martha Firestone Ford has ended her six-year run as a team owner. It took over when her husband William Clay Ford died.
"It was a great honor for our family to be associated with the Lions and the National Football League," said Ford in a statement. '' I am pleased that this family tradition, which my husband and I started almost six decades ago, will continue under Sheila's leadership.
"It is clear to me that Sheila will take an excellent leadership and is fully committed to the competitiveness and commitment of the community."
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Ford had managed the Lions with skill and grace.
"I appreciated their business insight, love of the game, deep commitment to the NFL, and personal friendliness," said Goodell.
68-year-old Hamp was the team's vice chair during her mother's tenure in the franchise, attended owner meetings, and was part of committees. She is a member of the NFL's Super Bowl and Major Events Committee and the board of directors of the Detroit Lions Charities.
"Sheila Hamp has been increasingly involved in team and league matters in recent years," said Goodell.
Ford, a granddaughter of tire magnate Harvey Firestone, rarely spoke to reporters or made public statements about the direction of the franchise, but their influence was palpable. In 2015, the team fired its president and general manager in an off-season, and when it announced the changes, Ford informed fans that the franchise was intending to identify and hire the best leadership in order to produce a consistently successful football team. ''
The Lions eventually hired Bob Quinn as the new general manager and contested the playoffs in 2016, but haven't been back since. Detroit replaced coach Jim Caldwell with Matt Patricia, who lost 9-22-1 in his first two seasons.
Although she was publicly shy, Ford was present within the organization.
"I think visible property is great and Mrs. Ford is doing very well," said Caldwell in 2015. "She's there before the games and she's there after the games, and I think the boys enjoy that part of it She comes to practice and things like that, so it was fun. ''
Ford was one of four female team owners featured in the documentary "A Lifetime of Sundays" along with Norma Hunt from Kansas City, Virginia Halas McCaskey from Chicago and Patricia Rooney from Pittsburgh.
The importance of a woman as the successor of another woman as owner of an NFL team was not lost in Hamp.
"I think it's actually pretty great," she said. '' My mother really laid the foundation for me. When I look around the NFL, there are some owners now. So it has changed a lot. ''
AP sports journalist Noah Trister contributed to this report.
Other AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP-NFL
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