Bengals QB Joe Burrow, Lordstown Motors working to help Ohioans after years of misfortune
Cleveland, Ohio has been through a lot. The city, on the shores of Lake Erie, was founded 20 years after the American Revolution, served as a crucial hub for the Underground Railroad, became a booming metropolis filled with immigrants from across Europe, and thrived post-World War II as Americans got to work.
Along with economic prosperity came the rise of Cleveland as one of the biggest cities in the U.S. As such, it became a perfect fit to be home to a new club. In 1945, the Cleveland Browns football team became a member of the All-America Football Conference (AAFC), a rival to the National Football League (NFL). When the AAFC folded in 1949, the Browns, along with the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Colts, were added to the NFL team roster.
Circa 1955, Portrait of American football coach Paul Brown holding a Lfootball while sitting on a table, 1950s. Brown coached the Cleveland Browns, which were named for him, and the Cincinnati Bengals. Photo by Getty Images
The blue-collar city of Cleveland showed up to watch the Browns, taking pride in the team much in the same way their rival Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers were embraced by their working class communities.
In 1961, New York City ad man Art Modell purchased the team. In 1995 he announced plans to move it to Baltimore. This did not go over well with the City of Cleveland nor the fan base. A November 12, 1995 article in the New York Times described the situation: "To the thousands of angry, depressed, bewildered, and determined Browns fans in this city irate about the planned move of their team to Baltimore next season, the owner Art Modell is now Walter O'Malley's peer in franchise-removal infamy."
O'Malley, a layer turned baseball executive, is best remembered for moving the Dodgers out of Brooklyn to Los Angeles and the New York Giants to San Francisco. In a roundabout way, he's also at least partially responsible for the rise of free agency.
A few years before Modell purchased the Browns, General Motors purchased a swath of farmland along the newly constructed Ohio Turnnpike. It was to be home to the Chevrolet brand with most every Chevy designed by the Detroit-based team to be built there except the Chevrolet Task Force and military vehicles. Construction got underway in 1964 and in 1966 the first Impala rolled off the line.
A strike in 1972 lasted 22 days and cost GM $150 million and resulted in many Chevys coming off the line with defective parts. Similar tactics were later used in other strikes earning the technique the nickname "Lordstown Syndrome".
U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) (L) shakes hands with steelworkers outside of the abandoned Youngstown Sheet and Tube Struthers Works factory February 24, 2004 in Youngstown, Ohio. Senator Kerry is touring areas of industrial decay and economic downturn in Youngstown. Photo by Getty Images
The collapse of the steel industry in the late 1970s and early 1980s was tough on the Mahoning Valley. In 1977, one of the area's top employers, Youngstown Sheet and Tube, abruptly closed its doors after 77 years in business and furloughed 5,000 workers.
Lordstown Assembly became the area's largest employer by the early 2000s, the same time that Modell was finally getting his wish and was able to begin a franchise anew. The Baltimore Ravens began playing in 1996 leaving the City of Cleveland without a team for three years until MBNA executive Al Lerner started the team back up, paying $530 million for the rights.
Inn 2006 as the economy contracted and the company began to see the full impact of decades of pension expenditure negotiations come to fruition, GM began scaling back operations. By 2008, they were in need of a bailout and cut two shifts of work at Lordstown. Over the next two years all of those workers were eventually invited to return to work. Just eight years later the plant was listed by GM in plans to go unallocated.
An exterior view of the GM Lordstown Plant on November 26, 2018 in Lordstown, Ohio. GM said it would end production at five North American plants including Lordstown, and cut 15 percent of its salaried workforce. The GM Lordstown Plant assembles the Chevy Cruz. Photo by by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images
Like Lordstown, the Browns have struggled over the last decade to find the right formula for success. A few hours away from the home of the Browns, the City of Cincinnati and its Bengals have weathered the economic and football storm of the last century slightly better.
Though its history in the later half of the 20th Century is marked by a series of major natural and manmade disasters (Blizzard of '78, The Who concert disaster, Air Canada Flight 797 accident, and a tornado in 1993), Cincinnati has come out strong on the other side. the city supported a major push to modernize its sports facilities and roster of teams in the first two decades of the 21st Century with new stadiums built and fresh franchises established.
Ohio, from Toledo to Cincinnati to Columbus to Cleveland, and its residents have been busy during that time too, transitioning out of the traditional maunfacturing jobs that had a hold on the state and working to adapt to a rapidly evolving work
Despite the success of reaching Super Bowls in the 1980s, by the 90s and into the 2000s, the Cincinnati Bengals were not able to find positive results. They joined the unsuccessful cum extinct Browns in making Ohio the laughing stock of the NFL.
The referee breaks up a fight during a game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1988. The Browns won the game, 23-16. Photo by Getty Images
For much of the last decade, as the Browns have floundered, Cincinnati rose up quickly then fell just as fast. From 2010 to 2014 the organization made four consecutive playoff appearances but that success was short-lived. The following five seasons spiraled into win-loss column disaster culminating in the 2-14 season in 2019. Those 14 loses were Ohio's gain.
In April 2020, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow was selected by the Bengals as the top pick in the NFL Draft. Six months prior, Lordstown Motors, a new electric vehicle company, struck a deal with General Motors to purchase a part of the Lordstown Assembly site to serve as its headquarters and future production facility.
Now, Burrows and Lordstown Motors are teaming up to launch "Work for it", a new campaign designed to assist the Joe Burrow Hunger Relief Fund, which is dedicated to providing supplemental and emergency food aid to residents of Athens County, Ohio. The Fund supports the Athens County Food Pantry. The 2010 census documented that over 30 percent of Athens County residents lived below the poverty line - the highest of any county in Ohio.
Burrow checks out the Lordstown Endurance pickup truck.Photo courtesy of Lordstown Motors
The partnership is a natural fit according to Lordstown Motors CEO Steve Burns. "Even before the first machines are turned on, there is a energy that flows throughout every corner of the factory," Burns said. "This isn't just hard work for hard work's sake ... This is work with a dream, a mission, and a goal in mind. An understanding that each of us is part of something bigger than ourselves. Joe Burrow embodies this mindset both on and off the field, and is the perfect representation for when you want something you work for it."
"I am proud to partner with a innovative company like Lordstown Motors," said Burrow. "Their team is putting in a tremendous amount of hard work to achieve some very lofty goals, and that certainly resonated with me and how I approach my job every day."
Burrow recently spent time with the Lordstown Endurance.Photo courtesy of Lordstown Motors
The partnership represents an ongoing commitment by Lordstown Motors to work to revitalize the Mahoning Valley.
The Lordstown Endurance, the company's all-electric pickup truck is creeping toward production. The company recently launched its first ad campaign for the fleet vehicle and announced 40,000 model pre-orders.