Martha Firestone Ford steps down as Lions owner, giving way to daughter Sheila Ford Hamp

The Detroit Lions announced that Martha Firestone Ford, who has been the principal owner of the franchise since 2014, has stepped down from that role on the team.

Ford’s daughter, Sheila Ford Hamp, will succeeded her as the team’s principal owner and chairman.

Ford, who turns 95 years old in September, said in a statement:

“It has been a great honor for our family to be in association with the Lions and with the National Football League. I am gratified that this family tradition, which my husband and I began almost six decades ago, will continue under Sheila's guiding hand. It is clear to me that Sheila will provide superb leadership and is fully committed to competitive excellence and community involvement.”

Ford had been a regular at Lions games and practices. When the Lions and Patriots had joint practices in training camp last year, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was impressed with her presence.

“I’m so impressed by the way that she handles things, runs the team, is involved. She was out at practice last week, it was 90-some degrees, stood out there the whole practice. I mean, she might be in better shape than some of the players,” Belichick said.

Martha Firestone Ford, left, has stepped down as Detroit Lions owner and chairman, giving way to her daughter, Sheila Ford Hamp, right. (Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire) (Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Martha Firestone Ford, left, has stepped down as Detroit Lions owner and chairman, giving way to her daughter, Sheila Ford Hamp, right. (Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire) (Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Ford took over the team following the death of her husband, William Clay Ford, who bought the team in 1961 and had full control of the franchise approved on on November 22, 1963 — the same day President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas.

But the Lions also have drifted downward on the field during Ford’s reign, falling from an 11-5 record and playoff appearance in 2014 to a 3-12-1 mark last season. Overall, however, the Lions had a 45-50-1 mark with her as owner, turning in three winning records and two playoff appearances in her five seasons at the helm.

The past several seasons, Ford had made up part of a venerable quartet of female owners, all over the age of 80, that included the Chicago Bears’ Virginia Halas McCaskey, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Patricia Rooney and the Kansas City Chiefs’ Norma Hunt.

Who is Sheila Ford Hamp?

Ford Hamp also has been a fixture with the franchise since her mother took control. She was appointed to the NFL’s Super Bowl and Major Events advisory committee last year and also has served on the board for Detroit Lions Charities.

Ford Hamp even met with media early this year, alongside team president Rod Wood, to discuss the futures of head coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn, as well as to dismiss rumors that the family might consider selling the team.

"My mother has inspired all of us since taking on leadership of the Lions over six years ago. She has been a tireless leader to our family, our team and our community. Her smart decisions have given me a solid foundation to take the team forward. On behalf of the family and the team, I want to thank her for her countless contributions. I look forward to leading the Lions to excellence on and off the field."

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell also issued a statement about the Lions’ power change:

“Martha Ford has led the Lions with skill and grace for the past six seasons. I have appreciated her business insights, her love of the game, her deep commitment to the NFL, and her personal kindness. We are pleased that the Ford family will continue to own and operate this historic franchise. Sheila Hamp has become increasingly involved in team and league affairs over the past several years and we look forward to working with her and the rest of the club's executive team.”

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