If you look around the NFL, you won’t find any female general managers. You won’t find female head coaches. You won’t find any female players.
But if you search the game of football outside the NFL, you’ll find female fans, enthusiasts, strategists, analysts, innovators, coaches and players. A lot of them, in fact.
Thursday’s training camp practice at One Buc Place was markedly different than previous sessions. It wasn’t just that the start time of practice was at 6:30 p.m. in the evening for the first time, though that did help give it a unique feel. But there were crowds all the way up and down every sideline of the Advent Health Training Center nearly two hours before the start of practice. There were stations with pictures and uniforms, paintings and sign-up sheets. And there were lines formed all over the indoor field with footballs being kicked, passed, and toted.
It was the Buccaneers’ annual Women of Red night, an event that has been going on for five years now. It is put on by the team to give more women an opportunity to get involved with the game they love and the team they cheer for.
In its five years of existence, the Women of Red event has become a staple of the female fan base in the Bucs community. Buccaneers co-owner Darcie Glazer Kassewitz said that 1,500 women signed up to come to the event this year; given how filled the stands were once practice began, the number of those who attended felt close to that.
Kassewitz has been at the forefront of aiming to increase diversity in football for years. In 2018 and 2019, Kassewitz served as a leader for the Women’s Careers in Football Forums held in Indianapolis during the NFL Scouting Combine. The goal at these forums is to discuss, share, and network – and to find more ways to get more women involved in what is one of the male-dominated areas of the sports world.
Nearly half of all NFL fans are female, and yet the representation they have at the professional level for a sport they love doesn’t even come close to that proportion. In 2017, roughly 35 percent of management positions in NFL offices were held by women, but on the team side of administrative positions, that figure plummeted to 20 percentage. It drops again significantly when it comes to any coaching positions.
Those numbers won’t change overnight, and some might never get close to an even split. (The percentage of female players in the NFL is zero, obviously, and that seems like a faraway final frontier in this fight.) But what’s important to Kassewitz and others fighting to carve out spaces for women is that, no matter what the peak percentage may be, women who love football in any form or fashion should have the opportunity to engage as fans — or coaches, or scouts, or whatever — without underlying systematic and historical discrimination undermining them.
That’s the purpose of Women of Red: to bring to light the fact that football can very much be female.
Kassewitz and the Buccaneers have been putting actions behind their words when it comes to leading the charge of that movement. Kassewitz announced on Thursday night that, in addition to all they do with Women of Red, the Buccaneers have donated flag football equipment to numerous middle schools and after school programs around the Tampa Bay area, and earlier this year held the largest women’s high school flag football event in the nation.
“We’re doing a lot of things,” Kassewitz said. “We are now donating flag football equipment to every middle school in Hillsborough and Pinellas County. We’re reaching 35,000 girls every year with the message that football is not just for boys.”
But it’s not just outside the walls of One Buc Place where the Buccaneers are making a difference in diversity. On the inside, the Buccaneers are the first team in NFL history to have two full-time female coaches on staff: Maral Javadifar, an assistant strength and conditioning coach, and Lori Locust, an assistant defensive line coach. In addition to those hires on the coaching staff, the Buccaneers have also hired a female scouting assistant, Carly Helfand.
“It’s very exciting for us to be the first in the NFL to have two female coaches,” Kassewitz said. “I think they’re inspirational for so many kids — so many girls — to know that they can be on the football side, too.”
“I think that we put so much effort into what we’re doing,” Kassewitz said. “We can lead the way. And hopefully lot of other [NFL] teams will follow, as well.”
Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: email@example.com