‘It’s a big deal:’ Why Joe Burrow is taking aim at the lost generation of COVID kids

The endeavor that will define Burrow’s philanthropic legacy is as pinpoint and timely as one of his passes on the field.
Published: Oct. 5, 2022 at 6:11 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - Joe Burrow says the idea for his newly launched foundation came in part from the struggles of kids during the pandemic.

The Bengals quarterback and LSU graduate spoke Wednesday before practice about the endeavor he launched a day prior.

“Mental health was a big thing,” Burrow said referencing the pandemic. “Everyone was talking about it because there was a lot of social isolation, not a lot of social activities going on.”

The effects were particularly pronounced among young, student-aged children and teens who are passing—or in some cases, failing—critical development milestones.

Said Burrow, “You hear a lot of stories about young kids who started to learn how to talk but they didn’t have anyone to talk to really, they didn’t have the social environments to grow that speech pattern.”

Indeed, pandemic infants score lower on tests of gross motor, fine motor and communication skills compared with those born before it, according to a report from Nature.

Moreover, while deteriorating mental health was ubiquitous during the pandemic, it was especially pronounced among those already struggling, according to research from Harvard University.

Burrow continued, “That’s something I think is going to be a big deal in society, especially with all the social media going on and all the divisiveness in the country. Mental health is going to play a big part in everyone’s lives going forward.”

To that end, the Joe Burrow Foundation will help families struggling to make ends meet by giving them the resources they need to support their child’s mental health. It will also work to ensure families have adequate supplies of food in Ohio and Louisiana, where 17 percent and 20 percent of children experience hunger, respectively.

Food insecurity is one of a few factors that can affect a person’s mental health, especially in young adults, the National Library of Medicine says. Additional studies show that there is a relationship between food insecurity and a child or adult’s emotional well-being.

Burrow said the foundation was a long time coming. The germ of the idea lay in his 2020 Heisman Trophy acceptance speech, when he took up the issue of food scarcity in a surprising and heartfelt tribute to his hometown of Athens.

“It’s a very, very impoverished area,” said a tearful Burrow. “The poverty rate is almost two times the national average. There are so many people there that don’t have a lot, and I’m up here for all those kids in Athens and Athens County that go home to not a lot of food on the table, hungry after school. You guys can be up here, too.”

Following that speech, the Athens County Food Pantry saw a surge in donations totaling more than $500,000 from nearly 14,000 donors nationwide.

Months later, after Burrow was drafted by the Bengals, Burrow announced a partnership with the Athens County Food Pantry to kick off the Joe Burrow Hunger Relief Fund. Donations to the pantry by then had topped $1 million.

Said Athens County Food Pantry President Karin Bright, “This is the ultimate feel-good story. Here’s this young man, he gets up and gives this amazing speech, monies come in and we can use these funds and then he’s the number one draft pick. It keeps on being this amazing story. He and his family have such a heart for our area and that’s why it resonates with people.”

Donations spiked with Burrow’s season-ending knee injury in December 2020 and again during the Bengals’ 2021 playoff run. Even fans of opposing teams chipped in.

The total amount raised was $1.3 million as of January 2022.

Burrow knew the donations would keep coming in. The logical next step was to build out the infrastructure necessary to begin distributing it.

The Burrow family worked all offseason to nail down the details. He said he couldn’t have done it without his mother and father.

Burrow’s mother, Robin Burrow, is a lifetime educator and currently the principal of an elementary school near Athens. Her son on Tuesday said she “experiences firsthand the effect of mental health issues on children and their families. We want to make a difference here as well.”

Robin Burrow remarked, “[...]I see kids grow and succeed every day. I also recognize the stress and challenges that students and their families face. We are committed to bringing people and resources together to help make a difference.”

Burrow will serve as president of the Foundation’s executive board. His father, Jimmy Burrow, will serve as vice president. Robin Burrow will serve as secretary and treasurer.

“Words can’t express how proud we are of Joe and his many talents,” Jimmy Burrow said. “His commitment to improving the lives of those who are less fortunate is especially meaningful to our family.”

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