Arriving at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, Florida on a momentous Sunday in early 2021, Carly Helfand couldn’t help but smile. Walking onto a field that very few women in her position had stepped onto before, Helfand was thrilled to have contributed to her team’s success in getting to this moment, and especially proud to be trailblazing a path for the eager, young talent to follow in her footsteps.
Helfand did not grow up playing competitive football, unlike many of her male counterparts, but her passion, diligence, and ability to create opportunities for herself have been a major part in her breakthrough into the professional football industry.
Her current position as a Scouting Assistant for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is the product of her persistence and many years of hard work to develop her expertise. Helfand’s role in the Buccaneers’ 2021 Super Bowl victory illustrates that there are opportunities in the sports industry for qualified, talented, and capable women, regardless of whether they had the chance to play the sport prior to their job.
Helfand began her football journey studying sports management at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a program that helped connect her with a series of internships. The first one was in 2016 with the Philadelphia Eagles, where she worked in Corporate Services. That led to another internship in 2017 with the University of Pennsylvania’s Athletic Department and football team, and another one in 2018 as an operations intern with the Philadelphia Soul, a professional arena football team. “I started on the business side of teams to get my foot in the door, but always wanted to be closer to the game,” Helfand said. After her time at the University of Pennsylvania, she started to receive interest from NFL teams about scouting positions, and she ultimately accepted a job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Her interest in analyzing players started when she was a first-year intern at the University of Pennsylvania, where she would sit in the offensive coordinator’s meeting room as he watched film. “I’d just be a fly on the wall and watch film once in a while. He’d ask me ‘OK Carly, what do you think of this guy?’ He was the first coach that told me I can do this,” Helfand said in an interview with On Her Turf and NBC Sports.
But Carly’s passion for football started at an early age. Making an effort to learn the names of every single player in the NFL by age 12, Helfand’s early football fandom began by watching games with her dad and falling in love with the sport. She became a self-confessed football nerd, and realized that if she wasn’t working in sports, she wouldn’t be happy. Helfand continued to work her way up in the industry before her time in Tampa Bay.
The Buccaneers provided a very welcoming environment for Helfand as she began her first job with a professional football team, and she felt that she was able to connect with other employees right away. Growing up in an observant Jewish household, Helfand’s Judaism is still extremely important to her today. She went to a Jewish day school, celebrated all Jewish holidays, and attended her local synagogue often.
Helfand acknowledged that working in the NFL would involve some sacrifices, but is fortunate to have a Jewish coworker who has been a great resource for her during her time with the team. “He and his wife have opened their home to me on multiple holidays which has made celebrating easier and more enjoyable,” says Helfand.
As a scout, Helfand’s responsibilities with the team differ depending on the time of year, but she truly enjoys every aspect of her job. Prior to the season, when the team needs to be preparing for the draft, Helfand focuses on helping to analyze which players the Buccaneers might want to select. “During draft prep, we put together cut up tapes on the majority of college players that are draft eligible and we assist with the draft board,” she says.
When the season rolls around, Helfand’s center of attention pivots to a wider range of tasks. “In-season, we are responsible for writing pro reports, assisting with advances and other projects for coaches, helping to facilitate tryouts, and assisting on the college side as well with traveling to and scouting small schools.”
The types of players that Helfand is helping the team look for depends on the position, but she is always considering specific skills, factors, and qualities, “The team’s needs and scheme dictate how and if that player will fit for a certain team,” she says.
Helfand had dreamed of a trip to the Super Bowl for as long as she could remember, but to be an integral part of the winning team’s staff was an unforgettable experience. “Just being able to attend a Super Bowl would have been a dream come true, but the fact that the team I’m a part of played in it and won took it to another level,” Helfand says. She stayed on the field long after the game ended to take in the Buccaneers’ exciting victory. “I am still pinching myself.”
As one of the only women in the NFL to hold her current position, Helfand also took some time to reflect on how grateful she is to be one of the firsts in the industry. “When I was growing up, there weren’t many women to look to for inspiration in football roles and I think it’s an amazing thing that young girls can now feel represented,” Helfand says. She hopes to inspire young girls to pursue their dreams, even if they may seem far fetched or obstacle-ridden. ”My advice to younger girls who want to pursue a career in football is to never doubt your abilities. Just because you may never have the opportunity to play the sport, does not mean you are any less qualified,” Helfand says.
As she gears up for the fast-approaching NFL season ahead, Helfand is part of a team that is looking to win back-to-back Super Bowls. With the NFL Draft concluding last weekend, she will undoubtedly be doing everything she can to ensure the Buccaneers have the best possible talent on the field for the years to come. And in doing so, Helfand will continue to help open doors for the next generation of women who are encouraged and inspired by her example and path to success in the NFL.