Joe Burrow's parents discuss the Cincinnati Bengal's nonprofit addressing food insecurity

Céilí Doyle
The Columbus Dispatch

ATHENS — When Joe Burrow and his family moved to Athens, Ohio, in 2005, the self-confident, outgoing second-grader was always friends with everyone.

His parents, Robin and Jimmy Burrow, recalled how their son, who grew up in southeast Ohio after Jimmy took a job as defensive coordinator for Ohio University's football team, was acutely aware that kids came from different backgrounds.

But no matter whether someone was different because of their race and ethnicity or socioeconomic status, Joe saw everyone as equals, his mother told The Dispatch recently.

"Joe never chose friends based on where they came from or how much money their parents made," his father said. "He was always aware of friends and classmates who went hungry. He saw it firsthand."

Joe Burrow Foundation:Bengals QB launches nonprofit focused on food insecurity, mental health in Ohio, Louisiana

Robin Burrow Q&A:Joe Burrow's mom talks about her son's influence on southeast Ohio kids and the Super Bowl

That awareness has continued into adulthood. The star quarterback dedicated his 2019 Heisman Trophy acceptance speech to raising awareness about food insecurity in Athens County, which inspired a GoFundMe for the county food pantry and the eventual Joe Burrow Hunger Relief Fund.

Now, less than a year after playing in his first Super Bowl, the face of the Cincinnati Bengals has launched a nonprofit.

On Oct. 4, he wrote on Instagram that "Everyone has a responsibility to do good." And with that mantra, he established The Joe Burrow Foundation, which is dedicated to addressing food insecurity and children's mental and behavioral health in Ohio (Cincinnati and Athens) as well as Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he played his final two years of college football at Louisiana State University (LSU).

Robin and Jimmy Burrow, parents of Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, reflect on their son's accomplishments and discuss the future of the recently established Joe Burrow Foundation that they will help their son run. The goal of the foundation is to help combat food insecurity in Ohio and Louisiana.

Joe will serve as the foundation's president while Jimmy and Robin have signed on as vice president and secretary/treasurer, respectively. They have also recruited an executive director and a board of 20-plus community advisors.

As the principal of Eastern Elementary School in rural Meigs County, Robin understands the systemic challenges plaguing Appalachian Ohio all too well. As the mother of an NFL player whose athletic prowess and pregame fashion style dominate headlines, she could not be more thrilled that her son is dedicating his energy to philanthropy.

"He realized he had this platform and genuinely believes everyone should do good," she said. "As a mom, I'm just so proud of him for recognizing that responsibility to do good."

First steps: Setting goals, paying for hospital bills

Sitting on the back patio of the Ohio University Inn last week, Robin and Jimmy mused about the future of the foundation.

With Joe in the middle of the NFL season, the Burrow trio are still figuring out how they want to run this family venture — between fundraising, seeking grant opportunities and allocating funds there's a lot of work ahead. But in the first week since the nonprofit's launch they secured more than $35,000 in donations.

Future Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (4) seen with the rest of his Athens youth football team in 2008.

"We've already had so many requests to consider for help," Jimmy said.

"We gotta organize," Robin added with a laugh.

The Burrows want to partner with local municipalities across southeast Ohio, Cincinnati and Baton Rouge to build out food pantries, connect with community partners and set up endowments.

Funding for those endeavors will partially come from Joe's advertising contracts, which his team has previously negotiated with partners to set aside financial contributions for the Athens County Food Pantry and the Joe Burrow Hunger Relief Fund. Now, some of that money will go toward the foundation, Robin said.

Cincinnati Bengals star quarterback Joe Burrow announced the launch of his nonprofit, the Joe Burrow Foundation, earlier this month. "Everyone has a responsibility to do good," he wrote on Instagram.

But the first order of business, they explained, will be paying outstanding medical bills for 20 families nominated by a mental health care provider whose children are in treatment at Cincinnati Children's Hospital.

Addressing children's mental health is a key tenet for Robin especially, who in addition to her job as an elementary school principal also serves as a board member on the Appalachian Children's Coalition, an advocacy organization dedicating to serving kids in the region.

"We see this firsthand," she said. "There are skyrocketing levels of anxiety, depression, and since the pandemic children are not able to focus or deal with conflict as well. We're trying to build back this self-efficacy piece."

'Under a microscope': What is Joe Burrow's responsibility?

Even when he was a third-string quarterback at Ohio State University, early in his college career, Joe was fearless in speaking out for what he believed in, his parents said.

In January 2017, Joe took to Twitter to express his frustration over student-athletes inability to earn money for playing sports, years before the NCAA approved an interim name, image and likeness (NIL) policy.

"I mean, we were a little worried, back then. It was controversial," Robin said.

Both Burrow parents know their son is under a sharp microscope, but fear of rocking the boat has never really bothered Joe, his father explained.

Joe Burrow before the NCAA football game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Ohio Stadium in September.

"Joe's shown a willingness to speak out when it's important," Jimmy said. "He doesn't push sand on Twitter every day. We may not always agree with his stance on things, but we agree with his passion."

Joe's passion has extended far beyond NIL advocacy to systemic challenges like food insecurity all the way to racial equity. Following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, Joe tweeted his support for the Black community and urged his followers to listen and learn.

Admittedly, there are people who say Joe Burrow should stick to playing football, Jimmy said. But the elder Burrow does not believe his son acting on his values conflicts with his ability to score touchdowns.

"These are not knee-jerk reactions," Jimmy said. "Joe thinks speaking out will help others make decisions and inspire action."

'Proud son of southeast Ohio':What can Joe Burrow do for the region after the Super Bowl?

Céilí Doyle is a Report for America corps member and covers rural issues in Ohio for The Dispatch. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one. Please consider making a tax-deductible gift at

You can reach her via email at or follow her on Twitter at @cadoyle_18