Matt May/Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Almost a year ago, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were an underperforming franchise who’d just signed a then-42-year-old Tom Brady to a two-year $50 million contract in a move that some may have found surprising. Now, they’re two days away from playing in the Super Bowl, and as the first NFL team in history to compete on their own arena.
For Darcie Glazer Kassewitz, who owns the team along with her family, it was the culmination of a long-held dream. “For our fans, it’s been unbelievable. They deserve it. It’s been a long time,” she says. After all, the team’s last (and only) big game appearance was its victory in 2003. Pulling off a successful season during a pandemic was not easy and required constant adjustments. “Throughout this entire process, the number one focus has been on ensuring the safety and welfare of our fans, our players, our staff, and it’s taken a tremendous amount of hard work and tireless efforts of not only our organization, but everyone in the community,” Kassewitz says. “And what I’ve learned is that we have an unbelievable community. Everybody’s pulled together to do what’s best, they’ve stayed positive throughout this entire process. And we’ve really seen the entire community come together.”
Kassewitz began working for the Buccaneers in 1995, after her father, Malcolm Glazer purchased the team. She also serves as president of the Glazer Vision Foundation, which provides full-treatment vision correction to underserved children in Tampa Bay, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Foundation. But sports have always been a part of her life, as the sole daughter amongst five brothers. “Family is very meaningful to us all,” Kassewitz says. “So, that feeling is kind of translated into a larger family with the Buccaneers. Everybody that plays a role with the team, from the players and the coaches and the staff to our fans, we’re all connected. That’s something that’s very important to me.”
As one of few female owners in the NFL, Kassewitz feels she has a specific role to play within the franchise and the league. She works closely with Women in Red, a group for the team’s female fans. Events include a pre-season practice open only to members of the group. “The connection to our female fans is very important to me,” she says. “We take one day of training camp and make it an exclusive Women of Red practice. You have thousands of women that have something in common, who share a love for football, a passion for the Bucs. There are instant bonds created where they can create friendships and make memories together.”
Great strides have been made in recent years toward gender equity in the notoriously male sport. On Sunday, Sarah Thomas will become the first woman to referee a Super Bowl. Last year, Katie Sowers, in her fourth season in the NFL, was the first woman to coach in a Super Bowl as the San Francisco 49ers offensive assistant, while Vanderbilt’s Sarah Fuller made history playing kicker (and scoring) in a Power Five game for the university team.
Kassewitz wants the Buccaneers to be part of that wave. “We’re so proud to be the first in the NFL to have two full-time female coaches [Maral Javadifar, an assistant strength and conditioning coach, and assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust], and it’s really a testament to head coach Bruce Arians and his values,” she says. “We all feel that if a person can make this team or this organization stronger, we want them on board. It’s looking beyond norms and stereotypes, and valuing somebody strictly based on their skills. That’s incredibly important to us.”
The team is investing in equity off the field as well. Around half of the Buccaneers VPs are women, Kassewitz says. That includes Jaqueline Davidson, the heavily celebrated director of football research, who was hired last year, after previously serving as the director of football administration for the New York Jets. Davidson is one of the most high-profile Black women working for the league.
In 2020, the NFL announced that women constituted 47 percent of their fanbase, a stat that belies a belief by some that women might tune into a big game like this weekend’s Super Bowl solely for the big-budget commercials and half-time performance. Kassewitz wants those female fans to feel seen and recognized. Last year the team initiated the annual Girls in Football Scholarship program. “There are so many women who want to pursue their love of football into a career,” she says. “We found that there were [very few] scholarships for female football players, and we really knew that we had to fill this void. We wanted to take our support of women every step of the way, starting at the rec centers through middle school, through high school and showing women that they could pursue their love of football.” The team also started the first all-girls flag football league in Tampa.
The NFL—and its players—haven’t always had a sterling history with women. Asked about those who might be disinclined to engage with the sport because of this, Kassewitz points to the off-the-field work of team members, like a player-led social justice initiative and the Buccaneers Youth Leadership Program. “I can’t say enough about our players. I think that people don’t really know how much time players spent outside of football, doing unbelievable things in the community. I get to see a lot of it firsthand. And a lot of it, they do very quietly. They’re not looking for the accolades,” she says.
At a time when athletes are becoming more vocal in their support of Black Lives Matter and antiracism, Kassewitz says she’s eager to support the issues that matter to her players. “I tell them all the time, please come to me, tell me what you are looking for, because we’re all learning as we go along and we all have different experiences to draw from. It’s very important for me that the players do incredible work and bring their ideas to the Buccaneers so that we can really push them out,” she says.
On Sunday, those players will take to the field for a moment few could have believed would happen. “It’s hard to describe,” says Kassewitz. “It’s a dream come true.”
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