Joe Burrow accepted his Heisman trophy a month ago, but like most University students, I have yet to stop thinking about it.
The award itself was an indisputably well-earned one, but Burrow’s acceptance speech made the Heisman ceremony especially memorable. Beyond the usual sports award standard of thanking coaches and teammates, Burrow spent considerable time reflecting on his time in Ohio, his transition to Louisiana and his attachment to both places.
He humbly described himself as “a kid from Ohio coming down to the Bayou” and concluded by dedicating his trophy to “LSU, Ohio State, southeast Ohio and all of Louisiana,” a succinct encapsulation of the institutions and states that shaped his path to the Heisman.
I would applaud any athlete who recognizes that geographic identity is more complex than a town on a birth certificate, but Burrow’s journey is especially poignant for me. As a student born in southeastern Ohio who has called Louisiana home for most of my life, I understand Burrow’s dual embrace of both Ohio and Louisiana more intimately than most University students.
His story resonated with me so much that, much to my surprise, 2019 was the year I became a football fan after years of uninterested in the sport.
Since so much of Louisiana culture is rooted in its long Cajun history, people without deep family roots here can often struggle with calling themselves “true” Louisianans. I have certainly experienced this. Even simple things, like not calling my grandfather “Paw Paw,” make me feel like an outsider.
I deeply admire Burrow’s ability to call himself a “native Louisianan” after a mere year and a half in the South. As he noted in his acceptance speech, the power of “pounds and pounds and pounds of crawfish” to convert people into Louisianans is not to be underestimated.
More admirable than the ease with which Burrow adopted Louisiana as a home is Burrow’s recognition of the classmates he left behind in Athens, Ohio. His acknowledgment of his old classmates’ struggles with food insecurity exemplifies Burrow’s humility, gratitude and deep-seated concern for the people he identifies with.
This compassion not only made him a great teammate; it also inspired thousands of fans to help those going hungry in Athens. Since Burrow’s acceptance speech, over $435,000 has been raised in donations for the Athens County Food Pantry.
Loyalty and belongingness are often conflated as synonyms in the sports world, but as Burrow showed in his Heisman acceptance speech, there is an important distinction between the two virtues. Burrow’s heart belongs to Ohio and Louisiana, but his loyalty undeniably runs deep for LSU.
Burrow has without question earned his status as a Louisianan, just as his performance as a quarterback has united LSU football fans of all and made them proud to be a part of Louisiana history.
Cécile Girard is a 19-year-old psychology sophomore from Lake Charles, Louisiana.