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‘Women of Red’ draws Bucs’ faithful despite Winston suspension

An estimated 1,000 people attended the Bucs' fourth annual Women of Red event Tuesday night at One Buc Place. The team uses the program to connect with female fans. [ERNEST HOOPER | Times]
Wednesday 22 August 2018 05.00

TAMPA — There weren’t any signs that Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston’s suspension has strained the team’s relationship with women at Tuesday night’s annual Women of Red event.

An estimated 1,000 fans — primarily women with a number of high-ranking local executives in the mix — came out to the team headquarters to run football drills, listen to co-owner Darcie Glazer Kassewitz and general manager Jason Licht and watch the players take part in a walk-through practice.

BUCS COVERAGE: Get the latest updates from training camp and the preseason.

This year the team shifted the event from Raymond James Stadium to its new indoor facility at One Buc Place, and female fans filled nearly every seat in the stands on the south side of the field. They roared in approval as Licht ticked off the Bucs’ free agent signings and cheered as Winston and his teammates entered to the sound of the practice horn.

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The NFL handed Winston a three-game suspension in June, declaring that he violated the league’s personal conduct policy by touching a female Uber driver in Arizona in 2016 "without her consent."

Kassewitz said the suspension did not heighten the importance of the Women of Red event, now in its fourth year.

"It’s always been important for me and the Buccaneers to connect with women," she said. "It’s just a natural evolution of what we’ve been doing."

Kassewitz, who is also president of the Bucs Foundation and the Glazer Family Foundation, not only touted the team’s desire to foster memorable experiences for women but also its efforts to create career opportunities for women in a league dominated by men on the business and football side.

The Bucs held a panel at January’s NFL Pro Bowl featuring some key women in the organization, including Kassewitz and team vice presidents Nikki Donofrio, Jessica Worley and Kristin Hamwey. In the process, the team connected with aspiring women who aspire to work in the NFL: Mickey Grace and Andie Djamal both earned internships with the team this summer.

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The fans cheered Kassewitz’s acknowledgement of Grace and Djamal and, in general, appeared to have a good time. The festive atmosphere included food trucks, drinks and prize giveaways.

As for Winston, there were jerseys bearing his No. 3 in the crowd. During a meet-and-mingle session after the walk-through, attendees flocked to the players, including Winston. "We’re your fans, too, Jameis!" screamed fans trying to draw him away from autograph-seekers.

Fan reaction to the quarterback’s travails ranged from forgiveness to disappointment.

"I’m a Momma Bear when it comes to stuff like this," said Valerie Frazier, 60. "Everyone has to learn, and I think (Jameis Winston) is trying to change. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt.

"He’s going to be missed, but I’m still very impressed and love the Bucs."

Added 74-year-old Gloria Freeman: "He probably deserved the suspension. He made a mistake though and everyone deserves a second chance. I support him and I’m looking forward to the season."

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Attendee Sharon Fekete, 45, expressed disappointment in Winston’s behavior.

"It’s all embarrassing," she said. "I have a 14 year-old boy at home who looks up to him and wears his jersey. His disrespect doesn’t go well with ‘Women Of Red.’ I would rather see him take advantage of the opportunity."

The team will continue its Women of Red program throughout the season. Future events will include the Bucs’ first all-women’s tailgate and a special event built around an appearance by motivational speaker Jen Welter, who became the first woman to coach in the NFL in 2015.

Contact Ernest Hooper at ehooper@tampabay.com. Follow him @hoop4you. Contact Katelyn Massarelli at kmassarelli@tampabay.com.

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