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Bucs, Darcie Glazer Kassewitz set the tone for NFL gender diversity

As the team prepares for its annual Women Of Red event, it can point to landmark achievements in the league.

They come from around the nation, craving opportunity and driven by intrigue.

For two days, nearly 50 women filled conference rooms, listened to panel discussions and networked during breakout sessions to learn more about job opportunities in one of America’s most male-dominated industries: the National Football League.

And when they gathered for the Women’s Careers in Football Forum at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Darcie Glazer Kassewitz stood front and center. The Bucs co-owner and president of the Buccaneers Foundation and the Glazer Family Foundation again served as one of the event’s primary speakers.

Having always set a tone of diversity and inclusion during their family ownership of the team, Kassewitz and her sibling co-owners put even more action behind their goals in March when Tampa Bay became the first NFL team to have two female assistant coaches on its staff.

When Kassewitz sits on a stage as one of the league’s leaders for gender diversity and inclusion, she fills with pride.

“It’s a good feeling,” Kassewitz said of her involvement in the forum. "It’s been very important to me, too, to share this information with women who are trying to have careers in the NFL. You know, there’s a lot of women who have grown up loving sports but might have limited exposure to the opportunities that will allow them to follow that passion into their work life.

“I want to change that.”

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The Bucs not only have assistant strength and conditioning coach Maral Javadifar and assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust on their staff, but four of their eight vice presidents are women. While the league pushes to attract more women to coaching and front office positions, Kristin Hamwey, the Bucs vice president of human resources, said word about the team’s positive culture has grown in business circles. It’s a credit to Kassewitz’s more visible role with the team.

“What’s really exciting and has been helpful is they always say, ‘I understand that you have a lot of senior leadership females,’” Hamwey said. "In my opinion, it helps with our recruiting effort because they already know that we’re supportive.

“We fill our pipeline with good talented individuals, and it's working.

Assistant strength and conditioning coach Maral Javadifar at the AdventHealth Training Center during training camp on July 27, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)

Hemway said the Bucs recently promoted 17 people and half were female. They’ve added two female directors to their ranks, and nine of their 13 interns are women.

Kassewitz said the team’s commitment to gender diversity represents just a part of its overall embrace of inclusion, a core value that dates to the hiring of former Bucs coach Tony Dungy in 1997.

The diversity efforts, however, have garnered more attention because of Kassewitz’s commitment, and it extends beyond women and minorities. This year, the Buccaneers cheerleaders will include Lorenzo Gilbert, the first openly gay, male cheerleader on the squad.

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While the Bucs lead the way, they’re not alone. Other teams and the league itself can cite significant progress. In its first two years, the forum helped 19 women earn 26 employment opportunities with NFL clubs and college athletic programs. Sam Rapoport, the league’s senior director of diversity and inclusion, said the trend continued this year with some team officials hiring women on the spot.

“It’s a beautiful thing to watch the development,” said Rapoport, who can point to her own rise from NFL marketing intern as proof women can succeed in sports. “I really have to give credit to the owners, coaches and GMs. Really, they’re the ones leading the way. It’s been remarkable to see the progress.”

Rapoport said the Bucs and Kassewitz have quickly lent assistance to the forum. This year, Bucs participation also included coach Bruce Arians as well as several team executives. While the hiring of female coaches draws media attention, Rapoport paraphrases a coach when she says the, “noise is a lot louder on the outside than the inside.”

The success of league and team efforts are a perfect backdrop for tonight’s annual Women Of Red event at the Bucs’ AdventHealth Training Center. The event got off to an inauspicious start when critics deemed the approach condescending.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust watches Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Justin Watson (17) run drills during training camp at the AdventHealth Training Center on July 29, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. (MONICA HERNDON | Times )

It has grown in popularity, however, as the team has responded to cues from participants and redesigned activities for fans who just happen to be women as opposed to women fans. Kassewitz expects this year’s attendance for the private event to double from last year and reach nearly 1,500.

“This fan club that we’ve created for our female fans has really grown over the years to become a crucial part of our ability to engage in conversations with our female fans so that what we do with the Bucs authentically resonates with their shared ideas and desires,” Kassewitz said. "I think women really enjoy these large-scale, up-close-and-personal, behind-the-scenes events that are for them. This year, we’re going to create more events for them so that they can have more opportunities to do things like this.”

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With women comprising 44 percent of its fan base, improving its diversity remains an important goal. Kassewitz not only points to the key hires and the Women In Red event, but the Bucs’ efforts to connect with the next generation of fans by supporting the growth of flag football.

They have provided flag football equipment for 35,000 girls at Pinellas and Hillsborough middle schools, and they hosted what is believed to be the largest high school flag football tournament in the state earlier this year.

Despite the progress, Kassewitz and league officials realize women remain underrepresented across the league and throughout sports. Earlier this year, Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw generated national headlines from the NCAA Women’s Final Four in Tampa when she cited the inequalities in her sport and, generally speaking, in the nation.

It’s an observation not lost on Kassewitz.

“I think there’s a long way to go but we’re making great progress and we’re very focused on making great progress,” she said. “We’re really excited about where we are right now.”

Contact Ernest Hooper at Follow @hoop4you.