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Heisman winner Joe Burrow used spotlight to highlight poverty in Southeast Ohio

Joe Burrow


Zelda Caldwell - published on 12/20/19 - updated on 12/20/19

Census data released today confirms that residents of the Athens County area are struggling.

During his Heisman trophy acceptance speech on Saturday, an emotional Joe Burrow used the occasion to highlight the poverty in Southeast Ohio. The LSU quarterback moved to the area in 2005 after his father accepted a coaching position at Ohio University.

“It’s a very impoverished area. The poverty rate is almost two times the national average,” he said.

“There are so many people who don’t have a lot. I’m up here for all those kids in Athens and Athens County who go home to not a lot of food on the table, hungry after school. You guys could be up here too,” he said through tears.

As reported by, census estimates for 2018 released Thursday confirm that relative to other parts of the country and state, the area near Athens, Ohio, is suffering.

Here’s what the data shows:

  • Athens County has the highest poverty rate in Ohio, at 30.6% The national poverty rate is 11.8%.
  • The average income is below $15,000 for one out of seven Athens County families (13.7% of the population).
  • Child poverty in Southeast Ohio is the worst in the state, ranging from 30.7% to 33.8%.

A week after Burrow’s speech, donations to the Athens County Food Pantry reached almost $500,000 according to a Facebook fundraising page.

Inspired by his speech, Louisiana State University fans have since made pledges to help the poor in their own state. According to, $50,000 has been raised to help the poor in the Baton Rouge area.

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