Darcie Glazer Kassewitz, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Owner and President of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Foundation and the Glazer Family Foundation, was the featured speaker at a fireside chat early Wednesday morning in an Indianapolis hotel ballroom. There was no actual fire in the room, but there was plenty of passion. Mrs. Glazer Kassewitz was there to help stoke that passion.
A sign that read "The Future of Football" was the backdrop for Glazer Kassewitz's chat with host Mori Taheripour and roughly 60 young women who are pursuing careers in football. The larger backdrop was the NFL Scouting Combine, which annually draws hundreds of football professionals to Indianapolis. The vast majority of those professionals are men, but the ratio is changing every year as more women become involved in every aspect of the game, from coaching to training to any number of opportunities on the business side of football.
Many of the women in attendance at the Careers in Football Forum were already working in football on the collegiate and high school levels and some had already made an entryway into the NFL. They sought guidance as to how to advance in their careers, how to turn small opportunities into bigger ones and, for many of them, how to break into the NFL. Glazer Kassewitz emphasized the importance of networking, of constantly reading and searching for new opportunities and of making an effort to stand out in whatever positions they had acquired, but she also delivered a message of empowerment.
"The playing field is not level yet," she told the young professionals. "You might stand out a little bit because you’re a woman. And that’s okay, that’s awesome. If you’re out there, you’re qualified to be out there and you should be very comfortable where you are."
The fireside chat was the first of a day's worth of panels and meetings that also included an opportunity for the women in attendance to pick the brains of four NFL coaches for over an hour. Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Head Coach Bruce Arians, who has an impressive history of pushing for workplace diversity that includes employing Jennifer Welters in Arizona as the first female coach in the NFL, took part in that panel discussion.
"I'm so excited to see the opportunities young women will have in this game," said Arians. "I was asked, 'Do you think women can coach in the NFL?' I said, 'Of course.'"
Glazer Kassewitz grew up in a family in which she was the only daughter among six siblings but said she was never made to feel like she was any less qualified than her brothers for any undertaking. She wants every young woman to have an opportunity to follow her passion and use her talents in the field of her choice, including football. That's the sort of inclusive environment the Glazer family has strived to create within the Buccaneers organization, which currently has women in 66% of its vice president positions.
"I grew up thinking that men and women were equally qualified to accomplish whatever they wanted if they had the capacity to do it," said Glazer Kassewitz. "And that’s the kind of culture that we wanted to bring to the Buccaneers. The culture of diversity and inclusion with the Buccaneers is extremely important as part of the fabric of who our family is. We feel that when you have greater diversity in the workplace you have a larger landscape of ideas from which to draw, which ultimately brings you to the best ideas. Ultimately, that’s what we’re trying to accomplish."
The setting of Wednesday's meetings was significant. Five years ago, there were no gatherings for women seeking careers in football at the Scouting Combine. Last year, however, around 20 of the women who attended similar meetings in Orlando were later hired for positions in football. That included Mickey Grace, a training camp assistant with the Bucs' coaching staff last year who made a very strong impression, and Andie Djamal, who worked in team operations.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity once you get into a team, and it’s very important that you take that opportunity, take every second that you have and do the very best that you can to show what you’re capable of doing," said Glazer Kassewitz, who met Grace and Djamal at last year's meetings. "Make it great. Anywhere you’re going, if you’re working some place, you need to stand out. There’s a million people that want your job."
The women attending Wednesday's forum at the Combine got a chance to ask questions directly of Glazer Kassewitz and the four head coaches on the later panel, which also included Baltimore's John Harbaugh, Buffalo's Sean McDermott and Carolina's Ron Rivera. They also chatted with the coaches at a roundtable breakfast, met with the professionals who organize and run the Combine and heard from other leading women in the NFL and other sports. It was an important opportunity for them to network and to receive encouragement. But perhaps the most important lesson for these would be sports pros is understanding that there are doors opening for them in their desired professions.
"It's an awareness issue," said Glazer Kassewitz. "A lot of it is awareness that there are tremendous opportunities for women in football.'