Tens of thousands of fans filled the sold-out stands of Raymond James Stadium on Monday night as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Indianapolis Colts, 24-17. In addition to cheering their Bucs to victory that night, the lively crowd reserved some of its loudest applause for hundreds of brave women who were in attendance.
As part of the NFL's support of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, the Buccaneers staged a variety of events and gameday elements to salute the fight against the deadly disease. Buccaneers cheerleaders lined the field in pink uniforms, while players, coaches and referees donned striking pink accents as part of their uniforms. Members of the ZTA sorority distributed pink ribbons to fans outside all gates and club entrances, and children of parents battling breast cancer led the team onto the field during pregame introductions.
This month, the NFL's collaborative initiative with the American Cancer Society, called "A Crucial Catch: Annual Screening Saves Lives," encourages annual mammograms for women over 40. The Buccaneers supported the NFL's initiative by honoring special guests and organizations in the Bay area.
In conjunction with the Jack and Jill Late Stage Cancer Foundation, the team provided a special experience for Judy Kooistra and her family of Canton, Ohio. Judy, a "wish" recipient, is battling her second round of late-stage breast cancer, and her wish was for her family to meet the Buccaneers. On Saturday, October 1, Kooistra met the Buccaneers after the team's practice at their training facility and on Monday, she was honored as the team's special guest.
"This has been an amazing experience," Kooistra said. "This is a really high-class organization. Everybody's been incredibly kind to us. It's a nice break from the everyday routine. When you're right here in this game, you're not thinking about [cancer]…I really appreciate everything that the Bucs have done for us this weekend and today. This is just amazing."
Before kickoff, the Buccaneers recognized Pinellas County Sherriff Jim Coats and his wife Cat as the team's honorary captains. Sherriff Coats is retiring after 40 years in law enforcement to spend time with Cat while she battles breast cancer.
"There comes a certain point in your life where family takes priority over your job," Coats said. "After 40 years, I've decided to spend more time with her and help her on her journey, then spend time together thereafter. We're so grateful to the Bucs organization for giving us this opportunity and sharing with our journey and the journey of many others who have been there, are going through it or will go through it in the future. It's awesome that the NFL in general and the Bucs in particular recognize breast cancer and breast cancer awareness. We're very grateful for the opportunity to be here."
To continue the commemoration of Breast Cancer Awareness Month on a local scale, the Buccaneers and the NFL donated $5,000 to My Hope Chest, a nonprofit organization that assists uninsured women with reconstructive surgery post-mastectomy. On Thursday, September 29, linebacker Adam Hayward presented the Buccaneers' donation to nonprofit representatives at One Buccaneer Place.
"Being a professional athlete, people kind of look at us as being entertaining, but we all have our stories, too," said Hayward, who lost his mother to breast cancer. "Mine happens to be breast cancer, so I'm very passionate about it. When I see small organizations like this that come in and their main focus is really just trying to help in areas that are almost looked past, it's great to see."
An active spokesperson for breast cancer awareness, Hayward was named Ambassador for the Florida Suncoast Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure for his involvement in fundraising and support for research. Presenting the Buccaneers' donation to Alisa Savoretti, founder of My Hope Chest and a breast cancer survivor, is just one of Hayward's many efforts to combat the deadly disease.
"We just want to thank the Bucs for their continued support of breast cancer initiatives," said Savoretti. "We're just very grateful to the Buccaneers for choosing My Hope Chest and sending us this check to help our patients."
Representing the Buccaneers' Women's Organization, wives, fiancés, girlfriends and mothers of players, coaches and front-office staff members also joined the fight against breast cancer by participating in the Susan G. Komen Race/Walk for the Cure 5k on Saturday, October 1.
As part of the NFL's fundraising campaign, autographed pink merchandise worn and footballs used during Monday night's game will be auctioned at NFL Auction (nflauction.nfl.com), with proceeds benefiting the American Cancer Society and team charities. To learn more about how you can join the Buccaneers in the fight against breast cancer, visit www.nfl.com/pink.