There were signs, right away, that this wasn't your typical salon.
In the waiting area, helmets and gloves were strewn along the walls. In the salon chairs, most of the customers were wearing cleats spatted to their ankles. And perhaps most unusual of all, every one of those customers, regardless of age, sex or current hair style, was asking for the same thing: A buzz cut.
Then again, this wasn't your usual salon clientele, either. These were mostly big men – and one very brave woman – all of whom worked for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and all of whom figured a little hair was an easy to sacrifice in pursuit of a very worthy cause.
The "salon" in question was actually a repurposed press conference studio at One Buccaneer Place. The chairs, the customers and the salon professionals were all on a raised stage at one end of the room, which was fitting as there was a huge audience to see just how these particular haircuts went down. Every single Buccaneer who sat down in one of the chairs did so to support the Pediatric Cancer Foundation's Cut for a Cure Charity Challenge, which proved both productive and wildly entertaining.
By agreeing to have their heads shaved (to a varying degree by personal choice, but at least to a very tight buzz), the Buccaneer volunteers were aiming to raise at least $20,000 for pediatric cancer research. They also knew that the newly-gleaming domes attached to the likes of General Manager Mark Dominik, quarterback Josh Freeman and wide receiver Mike Williams would draw valuable attention to the cause.
And, far from unimportant, the event represented a fun day away from the realities of the battle against pediatric cancer by the children and their families who took part in Friday's Cut for a Cure at One Buc. Each person who stepped up to have his or her head shaved was paired with a brave young patient, many of whom actually picked up the clippers and got involved in the process.
"Besides the fact that I was long overdue for a haircut," said Freeman with a laugh as the last of the hairs on his head were meticulously removed, "there's no better feeling than to see these kids who have been battling cancer have the opportunity to shave your head. It makes you feel awesome, what Mark Dominik and the Buccaneers organization do to get involved in these things. It's a great deal, it really is, and when we were presented with the opportunity so many guys jump up and said, 'I want to do it, I want to help out.' I think it speaks a lot about the type of guys that we have on this team and also the direction this organization is headed."
Roughly a dozen Bucs had committed to Friday's event, but with some additional last-minute volunteers from the Bucs' locker room and staff offices, the final total climbed to more than 25 brave souls and shiny pates. In addition to Freeman and Williams, the players who sat down for a tight buzz included Connor Barth, Ahmad Black, Jonathan Casillas, Andrew Economos, Mason Foster, Ka'lial Glaud, Mike Glennon, Cody Grimm, Michael Koenen, Dan Orlovsky, Mike Remmers, Adam Smith, Cody Wallace and Mike Williams.
Barth, a relentless comedian who is known for making ironic facial-hair statements, gladly took part and said he might even keep the new look for a while.
"We're here to help the kids and show them we support them," he said. "The Bucs are here to do whatever we can to raise money and raise awareness. It's a great cause. It's tough. I spend a lot of time with the [ailing children], and anything we do to support them and show them we're behind them, we will. Hopefully they'll find a cure for cancer. Raising money and awareness is what it's all about."
Of the dozen or so staff members who chose to participate, clearly the most nervous was Maria Araujo, a member of the team's food and beverage staff who has been cooking meals for the players for years. Araujo has children of her own and was clearly motivated by thoughts of what the pediatric patients had to endure. She said the clean-shaven look was going to be a complete surprise to her own kids, but in the end she had little reason to be nervous. Many in the room commented that, in addition to showing bravery and compassion by agreeing to participate, Araujo ended up with a very flattering new look.
"There's no comparison to what they go through," said Araujo of her sacrifice and what the cancer patients endure. "There are no words to explain [what they go through] and I just want to show that we can be strong for them."
Nancy Crane, executive director of the Pediatric Cancer Foundation, announced at the end of the event that the Bucs had surpassed their goal of $20,000, though there are still 23 days remaining for anyone who might want to add their donations to the cause. Overall, the Cut for a Cure Charity Challenge has raised more than $445,000 this year, which will help fund such things as the creation of less-invasive procedures and clinical trials at 11 different hospitals.
Crane was impressed with not only the results of Friday's event at One Buccaneer Place but the atmosphere in the makeshift salon…and some of the new looks on display.
"The message of the players and the staff and Mark Dominik has been, 'It's only hair,'" she said. "Really, they feel a little bit like our kids do when they have chemotherapy and radiation therapy. It's a sacrifice for them, but actually I think most of them look pretty darn good. They've been having so much fun."
Dominik, who is a Pediatric Cancer Foundation board member, was joined by his wife, Amy, and their three small children, Davis, Emerson and Avery, all of whom watched intently as their father got his own new look. It happened to be a special day for the Dominiks already, and they were pleased to spend it in this special way.
"It's our 16th wedding anniversary today, actually, so this is my gift to her," said Mark. "No, in reality, it's a gift to the children, it's a gift of raising awareness, and that's really what it's all about today. Hopefully we raise some good funds, too, to find a cure for this disease. I have three children, and if any of them were diagnosed with cancer would I shave my head? Yes, in about two seconds. There are a lot of families in here who have children diagnosed with cancer, so we want to help raise awareness for everybody."
And Amy's reaction to the "gift?"
"It's actually not bad," she said. "I would not have chosen it, but for the reason we're doing it, absolutely. This has actually been a lot of fun."
Besides, the sacrifice made by her husband and the dozens of other players and Buc staffers was temporary, while the funds raised could have a very lasting effect on the battle against pediatric cancer. Or, as Ahmad Black succinctly put it:
"Hair will grow back. This is for a good cause."