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Lions owner Ford steps down, daughter takes over

The Detroit Lions may have changed owners on Tuesday, but the expectations from Sheila Ford Hamp — the daughter of former franchise owner Martha Ford — are remaining the same: Show major improvements from the last two seasons.

Hamp made that clear during a conference call announcing the transition of power from mother to daughter, months after both of them said when deciding to bring back general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia that they expected to be playing meaningful football in December.

The COVID-19 pandemic might have altered some of their thinking, mostly because it’s unclear what any part of an NFL season will look like in 2020, but the general goal has stayed.

“This is going to be kind of a weird year,” Hamp said. “So I don’t want to say anything about wins and losses. I think the overarching thing is that we want to see major improvement and at this point I can’t really say what the specific measures are going to be because I don’t know what the season is going to be like yet. But believe me, major improvement is the goal.”

Hamp said it was a family decision to keep Quinn and Patricia and that her siblings — all of whom are vice chairmen of the franchise — were also consulted. Hamp said Tuesday that for major decisions going forward she will continue to consult the family, including her mother, brother and two sisters, but ultimately the decisions will come down to her.

And she looks at her mother as a role model in how she wants to handle the Lions — having been by her side at league meetings, at games and other functions during the six-and-a-half years Martha Ford was the primary owner of the club.

“I intend to emulate a lot of those things and hopefully put my own stamp on things,” Hamp said. “I plan to be hands-on and learn as much as I can about the organization and be involved in a lot of ways.”

While she didn’t have specific examples of what she might look into changing, she said she will instruct team president Rod Wood to set up meetings with departments she isn’t as familiar with — specifically citing the analytics department — so she can have a deeper understanding of every aspect of the franchise.

One change she already appears to be implementing was the organization’s stance on peaceful protests by their players. During the 2017 season, when Colin Kaepernick kneeled to protest social injustice and police brutality, Martha Ford met with her players and asked them not to kneel — offering to lend her name and money to community issues to try and create change as a compromise. The Lions have used their Inspire Change initiative to help support and fund player-chosen initiatives.

Now, though, Hamp has a different approach to protests.

“First of all, I think the understanding is completely different now,” Hamp said. “I think most people really understand what the kneeling was really all about. I know that the commissioner has said, and I completely agree, that we support our players’ rights to peaceful protest. We support the First Amendment.

“I think this is really, finally, finally, thank goodness, gotten national attention. This is a serious problem and we as an organization plan to listen to our players and support them any way we can.”

That, Hamp said, would include supporting players and coaches kneeling on the field if they so choose. Hamp also said she would be open to the franchise bringing in Kaepernick — although at the moment the Lions have Matthew Stafford signed as the starter and gave Chase Daniel $5 million in guaranteed money to be the backup.

“If our coaches and our general manager all thought it was a good idea to bring [Kaepernick] in,” Hamp said. “I would completely support that.”

The timing of Hamp’s ascent to owner was her mother’s decision. It has nothing to do with the 94-year-old matriarch’s health — Hamp said her mother is “totally fine and healthy,” — but more that there isn’t football at the moment so it seemed like a good time to change and give Hamp a six-week window to get caught up before the 2020 season begins.

The Lions, which were purchased by William Clay Ford Sr. on Nov. 22, 1963, have been in the family for over six decades and now had three principal owners: Ford Sr., Martha Ford and now Hamp. In that timeframe, the Lions have won one playoff game and haven’t won a division title since the 1993 season.

“I’m going to do everything in my power to create a winning organization, especially on the field,” Hamp said. “The fans deserve it. The city deserves it. I am a very competitive person. I grew up playing competitive tennis, it’s an individual sport and me out there by myself and I hated to lose. I still hate to lose.

“That’s my message to fans. I’ll hate to lose as much as they do. And I’ll try not to.”

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