It’s a moment Bay locals won’t soon forget. The sun went down and the stands of Raymond James Stadium were Buccaneer red as far as the eye could see. The crowd erupted in cheers, fireworks lit up the night, and the current of energy coursing through the venue ascended to an all-time high as confetti rained down on players and fans alike. The epitome of American sports culture had come to Tampa Bay, and Tampa Bay reigned victorious. America was watching.
The city was set alive!
The Buccaneers made history that night as the second of only two teams to be undefeated in multiple Super Bowls and the first to compete in their own arena. Much ink has been spilled since about the blowout victory against the Kansas City Chiefs and Tom Brady’s record-breaking seventh Super Bowl win.
But, history has been made by our local Tampa Bay Buccaneers in more ways than one. Off the field at AdventHealth Training Center at One Buccaneer Place, the organization is redefining the face of NFL franchise leadership with record numbers of women in leadership positions. Leading the charge in gender equality efforts, the Bucs know that when there’s a diversity of backgrounds and experiences at the table, everybody wins.
In 2019, the franchise became the first NFL team with two female coaches on staff. In ‘21, Lori Locust and Maral Javadifar became the first female coaches to win a Super Bowl.
Javadifar, or MJ as she’s called around the office, is sharp, thoughtful, personable and highly educated. With a doctorate in physical therapy, she is an integral part of helping the Bucs players achieve peak performance: tapping into bioenergetics to keep them strong, powerful, building resilience to stay on the field, building physical and mental capacity, and improving recovery time. Each season, MJ looks at the whole person, integrating all aspects of their health and wellness in a multidimensional model. Even if it makes them 1% better, when it comes to training, she notes, “the little things matter to players whose bodies are what keep them on the field.”
It may be easy to say Tampa Bay lucked out with MJ, but make no mistake – there are no accidents with the Bucs. Javadifar was scouted by head strength and conditioning coach Anthony Piroli. He was looking for someone who doubled as a physical therapist, and MJ’s name was foremost among recommendations.
“It’s a lot of hard work and sacrifice, more than people realize from the outside,” she says. “My advice to young women on a similar path is to enter into it for the love of the grind, not the glitz and glam. Be present, master your craft where you are and bloom where you’re planted.”
Now, Maral Javadifar is going into her fifth season with the Buccaneers and was promoted last year from her role of Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach to Director of Rehabilitation and Performance Coach. With a Super Bowl under her belt, it’s clear Javadifar has found good soil on which to bloom here in Tampa Bay.
“A lot of people ask me what it’s like to work in a male-dominated field and coming in, I wasn’t sure if this would be just a news headline or a title. I soon realized that my thoughts were valued as important. I’m given autonomy, space to grow, and my feedback is valued and used to impact our program,” she says. “The Buccaneers are an elite organization hiring the best candidates that excel in each of the different departments. We’re supported by the Glazer family, who continue to work to push forward and improve the organization.”
Darcie Glazer Kassewitz, the sole Glazer sister and co-owner of the Buccaneers, is the powerhouse visionary behind many of the Bucs’ innovative, forward-thinking initiatives, and is the president of the organization’s foundation as well as the Glazer Vision Foundation.
“Women leaders are involved in every aspect of our business on and off the field. My experience at the Bucs isn’t male-dominated,” Kassewitz says. “From the beginning, my entire family has been interested in inclusivity and equality. We work together to foster large-scale social justice and gender equality initiatives, and it’s rewarding when we get to see things come together.”
Leadership has been relentless in pursuing the best individuals from all backgrounds to make the team and entire organization stronger, while also creating an internal culture where diversity can thrive. Under the Glazer family, the Bucs have been leading the charge in gender equality and diversity within the organization.
The community and fans are central to Kassewitz’s thinking, and under her aegis, the Buccaneers make an impact on and off the field. The Girls Flag Football Preseason Classic – the largest across the NFL, the nationwide Girls in Football Scholarship – the only one within the NFL, the Women of Red Fan Club and the Women’s Summit for Careers in Football – now in its third season – are just some ways the Buccaneers support female players of any age and female fans (who are estimated to make up 44% of the Buccaneers Nation).
Vicky Free Sistrunk, a globally recognized leader in brand-building and former head of Global Marketing for Adidas, is one of the most recent additions to the organization’s leadership. She now serves as Chief Impact Officer for the Bucs, spearheading its community and social responsibility initiatives within Tampa Bay and beyond.
“The mantra I live by is that a business can do well and do good–and they need to do both to be successful long term,” she says. “When Darcie and I talked about the possibility of me coming here, the role struck a chord with me. It brought my passions for marketing and sustainable brand building together with my personal vocation to help brands help people and serve the community.”
Sistrunk now oversees the Buccaneers’ partnerships with over 600+ non-profits, but with an esteemed career in marketing behind her, and a myriad of professional tools in the proverbial toolbox, the Bucs have found the woman for the job.
In her role, Sistrunk reframes the conversation to think about football as a platform for good, and her focus is on how we leverage this broad-reaching platform to drive positive and sustainable impact for the communities we serve.
So, what is it like working in a field dominated by males? The women of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wouldn’t know. Together, as an organization of progressive, thought leaders, barrier breakers and history makers, they’re firing the cannons, paving the way toward a brighter future in sports.
Get to know other Powerhouse women in our Women to Watch 2023.