Pursuing Her Passion: Barbara Zaun’s Incredible Career Journey with the Philadelphia Eagles
Red and gold confetti rained down on State Farm Stadium as Super Bowl LVII drew to a close. As the Kansas City Chiefs celebrated, the disappointment of defeat hung heavy over the Philadelphia Eagles sideline. Still, Barbara Zaun had reason to smile.
As director of entertainment teams for the Eagles, Zaun ’93 and the Eagles Cheerleaders had fulfilled one fan’s final wish just hours earlier.
Kellirae Cox, a 21-year-old with terminal cancer, had dreamed of meeting the Eagles Cheerleaders and attending the Super Bowl. In collaboration with the NFL and Dream Foundation, the team made that dream come true. Cox joined the squad for a short performance at the NFL Experience the week leading up to the big game. Yet, Zaun and the cheerleaders knew they needed to do more.
They secured Cox pre-game access to the Super Bowl, invited her onto the field to perform with them before the game, and even presented her with one of their signature wing jackets. The woman who had dreamed of meeting her idols had become an honorary member of the squad on the biggest stage in sports.
“This woman is so remarkable and has had so much adversity in her life,” says Zaun. “I get chills when I think about it. While it wasn’t the outcome [of the game] we had hoped for, it was a tremendous season and a great accomplishment to reach the Super Bowl. You can also walk off the field with your head held high knowing that you’ve made a difference in someone’s life.”
It’s these moments, Zaun says, that transcend sports and make her career so fulfilling. The lifelong Eagles fan graduated from DeSales in 1993 with a dance degree and has spent the last two decades forging her own path within the organization. But things didn’t always come easily for the Bethlehem native.
Zaun first auditioned for the Eagles Cheerleaders at the age of 24, competing against hundreds of women to secure one of the squad’s coveted 32 spots. In the end, she made it as far as the final round.
“I love to share this story because I think it shows that sometimes it takes being tenacious and not giving up. It’s not always easy; it’s not always handed to you. Sometimes you have to take a roundabout path to achieve your ultimate dream.”
Zaun got her start in the sports industry with a stint as promotions director for the Allentown Ambassadors, a minor league baseball team. But she always felt the pull to perform on a large stage, and she loved that the NFL combined sports and entertainment with business. She landed her first job in the league in Baltimore, where she spent a year cheering with the Ravens. With that experience under her belt, she returned to Philly to audition for her beloved birds. This time, she made it.
Zaun joined the Eagles as a cheerleader in 1999, eventually becoming director of the squad and then director of entertainment teams. Throughout her career, she’s worked with some of the biggest names in music and television, including Meek Mill and Jimmy Kimmel. While she loves the entertainment aspect of her career, the real heart of her position is rooted in character and community service.
“It takes an incredible passion to be able to do what we do,” Zaun says. “We love to serve others. We don’t clock out at 5:00; we are active 365 days a year. We’re constantly thinking about what else we can do to make a difference in the lives of others.”
That passion for philanthropy is evident with the Eagles Autism Foundation, the league’s Salute to Service initiative, and NFL PLAY 60, a health and wellness campaign that encourages kids to be physically active for at least an hour each day.
Zaun and the cheerleaders also relish their roles as global brand ambassadors. She has traveled the world—visiting places such as the United Kingdom, Mexico, Canada, and Hong Kong—to introduce newcomers to the NFL brand. The cheerleaders also embark on Goodwill Military Tours, bringing the NFL experience to service members and their families stationed overseas.
And then there’s the Super Bowl—the pinnacle for any NFL professional, as Zaun puts it. She’s been with the team through both heartache and triumph—in 2005, when Andy Reid and company lost to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, and then 13 years later when Nick Foles and the underdogs exacted their revenge, cementing plays like the Philly Special into city sports lore forever.
“Super Bowl LII was historic, it was iconic, it was epic, it was everything, especially being a lifelong Eagles fan,” Zaun says. “To be able to hold the Lombardi Trophy, participate in the parade down Broad Street, and most importantly, sharing the entire experience with all the fans, it’s so much bigger than yourself. There were so many life lessons built into that year; it’s something I’ll always reflect on as completely magical.”
Zaun credits her late grandfather and her mother—both fellow Eagles fans—as her greatest role models. Today, she leads a team of more than 70 employees. She says her time at DeSales not only prepared her for a future in both entertainment and business, but also helped to shape her into the leader and mentor she’s become.
“As I reflect on my journey, I do feel that my leadership style was formulated at DeSales. When I think about St. Francis’ compassion, humility, kindness, and positivity—those are a lot of the qualities that I try to incorporate into my leadership style.”
Looking ahead, Zaun has high hopes for this Eagles team and she’s confident she’ll be back on the sidelines at another Super Bowl in the future. Win or lose, she feels blessed to be part of it all, and she encourages others to pursue their passion and stay committed to their dreams.