Carmen Vitali is the Staff Writer/Sr. Coordinator of Digital Content at the NFL team Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She is living her dream of being a sports writer, something she has been passionate about since being 9 years old.
The Buccaneers have been creating headlines over the last few years for their diversity of team staff and in March 2019, became the first NFL team to hire two female coaches – Lori Locust and Maral Javadifar. Including a female owner / president, nutritionists, and a host of backroom staff, the Bucs have a culture for hiring the best, and not judging appointments on gender.
More recently, the Bucs were congratulated for supporting the ‘Women of the NFL Combine event’ by paying the bar bill. Sam Rapoport, a Senior Director of the NFL, tweeted that when the Buccaneers found out about the event, someone from the organization “quietly showed up to pick up the entire bar tab. This wasn’t part of a program or anything for which they’d get credit. They cited wanted to support women in [football] at every level possible.”
We wanted to find out more about the culture of this pro team, and why they are one of the teams leading the way in gender diversity. Who better to ask than the person whose job it is to find the real stories behind the headlines within the team – Carmen Vitali.
FCN Founder Vicky had a chat with Carmen about her experience of working with the Buccaneers, and why she thinks their team is so open to welcoming women.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are becoming well-known for their inclusivity of women in the coaching ranks and for supporting women in becoming part of the team and the sport in a variety of roles – has this been a conscious decision to do this?
I don’t know that it’s a conscious push for women to be part of the team as much as it is just to widen the candidate pool for the best people to be part of the team. The Bucs have recognised that in order to get the best people, you have to have the best candidates in the first place. If you are only including one gender in that candidate search, you are potentially missing out on a lot of great people that could make a difference to the organisation.
I think the emphasis is really just broadening the candidate pool and making sure that you are being diverse and inclusive at that stage of the process. From there you just hire the best person for the job.
I have never felt singled out for good or bad because I am a woman and I don’t see that happening on either side of the club, either the business side or the football side.
Has that been more prevalent since Bruce Arians took over in 2019 or has it always been part of the team philosophy?
It has been a team philosophy, but the coach can dictate so much of that too. Bruce adds to what the team culture is already and I do think he takes it to another level. He has made a big emphasis o making sure that he / the team is hiring the best people.
He spoke at the NFL Women’s Careers Forum two years ago, saying that he wanted to hire a woman but he wasn’t getting any applications. He was telling those at the forum to send him their resumes. They did, and now we have women on our coaching staff!
It’s not the sexy story to say that this inclusivity feels like a normal thing, but it is a normal thing at our club! I forget all the time about the initiatives that we do or are known for when it comes to women’s roles and equality, because it’s just normal.
I don’t feel like I’m a woman around the team, I’m just a journalist. I know that our women coaches feel the same way too.
It is a huge achievement that a Pro Team in Men’s sports has made mixed gender coaching staff and team staff the norm…
And that’s how you know you’re in a good place, when it’s not news. Gender equality is just the norm. I think that’s what we are all striving for in general.
I got to go to the NFL Women’s Career Forum this year during the NFL Combine and was speaking with Sam Rapoport. I was saying to her how funny it is that the goal of the Women’s Careers Forum is to not be needed anymore…it’s almost contradictory to itself because you don’t want this to be news anymore.
It’s interesting to be part of an organisation where inside our walls you forget how big all this is, or how big of an example we are setting outside.
How do the Bucs ensure that all these positive gender equality developments within the culture of the team result in a winning season this year?
Bruce says all the time that Football coaches are glorified teachers. There is no gender in teaching, so why can’t women coach? “Women are great teachers, some of the best teachers I ever had were women, so why can’t they coach?”
That’s how he gets his teams better and helps his players understand the system. They all learn differently, and our coaches know that, so everybody takes an individual approach. I know we didn’t have a winning season last year, but there were all these anomalies and crazy things happening, I couldn’t believe we didn’t end up with a winning season.
There were so many good things! But you can really tell that everything has started to turn around and everyone is starting to grasp the system.
These coaches are such great teachers that our players just want to keep learning from them and that will continue. I am really optimistic this year!
What would you say to the most staunch football fan or even coach, who are against the idea of having a diverse coaching staff? How would you convince them it’s the right thing to do for their team?
I would first off start by saying that I understand their concerns in a lot of ways. I think that what a lot of people have an issue with is perhaps that women coaches don’t come up the traditional way, in the way that a male coach would. Because the women don’t have the same opportunities.
It has gotten so much better now with women playing tackle football, we need more women in the pipeline. Women getting involved with football from an earlier development point is happening more and more.
It would be doing women a disservice if we just put women in a team without being qualified, just because someone wants to tick a box. That is not how you gain respect or trust or the other elements that are important to being a coach.
This is what Sam Rapoport has done so well, she has created this pipeline. Now there are women coming up through high school and college and by the time they get in front of an NFL Coach, they have so much experience that matches the needs of the team.
Now there are women coming up the more traditional way. Being at the Women’s Career Forum, there were so many women that where high school coaches, scouts, recruiters in college – they all have the same credentials as the men.
Look at Lori Locust, when she began with us, she had been coaching for 13 years already! Maral Javadifar our strength and conditioning coach has a doctorate in physical therapy – there are a lot of teams that do not have someone as qualified as her! Plus she was a Division II NCAA athlete.
To have that skill set, there are not many men or women that have that level of experience or knowledge. These women have incredible credentials and are super qualified, that’s what people need to know first and foremost.
How did your career in journalism start and how did you get a role within the Bucs?
I actually started as their marketing copywriter right out of grad school. Then after a couple of years, there was an opening after one of our writers left. I volunteered and said I can contribute for a few hours and as a result I ended up getting promoted full time to be a football writer. That was something I had wanted to do from when I was a little girl.
Writing is something I am good at, football is where my passion is…but if I’d have had different opportunities when I was younger, maybe if I was growing up now, I may have tried to become a coach or a scout. I love studying the game, I love learning everything I can about it.
The coaches have taught me so many things, I can’t tell you how appreciative I am for the time they have taken to help me. I think that has bettered my understanding of the game, which helps me to then convey that to fans, which helps the fans to understand the game on a deeper level. That’s my goal, to be the go-between between team and fan.
If you are a more educated fan, you’re not as harsh in a lot of ways!!
It’s so cool to me to be able to write these stories and be part of this, to tell people about what the Bucs are doing. What really matters is that little girls are going to see that and want to coach – where as that isn’t something I ever thought of.
If you can’t see it, you can’t be it – Lori says that all the time! Now people get to see it, which is really awesome!
My Dad was a huge football fan, that’s where it stems from. He was never dismissive of me wanting to come into the living room and watch the game with my cousins and uncles. He was always patient when I asked questions.
It is a very difficult game to pick up when you haven’t grown up with it.
What is a typical day for you working at the Bucs?
One of the things I love about this job is that there is no typical day! During the season, everything is a little more structured. I will have certain articles I know I have to get out each day.
I come into the office a little early, just to get my bearings in the morning before everybody gets there – although not as early as the coaches! I plan things out, I spend a lot of time talking to our coaches when they have time because it helps me get a feel for what’s going on in the team and it gives me some story ideas. I sit at my desk with my headphones in listening to music all the time.
There will be media availability during the week where we get to hear from Bruce and our coaching coordinators one time per week. We can talk to our players whenever we have availability in the locker room a couple of days a week. I just float around and if I have a story I am working on, I can go talk to that person.
Being a team writer and being in the building is really nice during the off season because all of the guys are in the building working out together. I can pass them in the hall and ask them a question whenever I need to.
This isn’t something which is afforded to outside media, so I really enjoy it as it allows me to build relationships with these guys and get some of the features you wouldn’t normally be able to.
There are a tonne of differences between the season and off-season, but each day is something different. Each day I really appreciate being able to create my own content.
I think that’s why I am so active on social media – I check my twitter all the time! I want to know what fans want to know! Thats my way of doing it!
What is your favourite thing about working for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?
There’s a lot of things! I just really appreciate the freedom and encouragement to grow in our role, whatever that role is. If I have an idea, I get told to go and do it! It’s a very fluid kind of place, you don’t feel there are any barriers. In other organisations, things are kept very separate – but the Bucs are super collaborative on both sides (the team and the business) and I am very lucky to cross over to both.