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As a senior executive with the National Football League, a five-time Pro Bowler and a soon-to-be-inducted member of the College Football Hall of Fame, football has been part of my life since playing as a little kid in Trenton, New Jersey. The game has provided a great life for me and my family.
In my era, the same opportunities -- to compete and learn and thrive through football -- were a pipe dream for people of a different gender, class, or physical condition.
There were no opportunities for girls to play high-level football. My mom could afford the basics for full-contact Pop Warner, even if the first mouthpiece she brought home for me was way too big. No disabilities prevented me from tackling or being tackled.
Because of my circumstances, society granted me access to football: tryouts, better equipment, camaraderie, and most crucially, coaching and mentorship, starting from my first day with the Morrisville Little Bulldogs.
Talent and work ethic enabled me to crack the starting lineup in high school, then college at Wisconsin, and finally the NFL. But above all, football taught me transferable life skills like resiliency, teamwork and communication. The sport provided a foundation for my growth as a young person, and for my future as a businessperson, husband, and father.
My life just wouldn't be the same without football. That's the truth.
That's why it's essential we get on the same page about flag football.
It's about time things change. Football should be for all.
Flag football is non-contact, low-cost, and quick to learn. Girls, women, people with disabilities, youngsters without the means to buy helmets and pads -- anyone who wants to play football can participate. They can even aspire to an elite level.
If you think flag belongs in the same conversation as two-hand touch or family pickup games on Thanksgiving, you might listen to the young women who have picked up the sport and are now advocating for varsity teams in their hometowns.
These are fierce competitors. They want to go up against the best of the best.
Girls are leading the charge in making flag football one of the fastest-growing sports today.
In the United States, around 474,000 girls under the age of 17 played flag last year -- 63% more than 2019. They're part of a movement that has 20 million participants in 100-plus countries.
And it's just the first quarter.
Eight states have sanctioned flag football as a girls' high school sport, including New York, California and Arizona. Twenty other states are exploring pilot programs. The number of U.S. colleges and universities offering women's flag is growing rapidly, too, as is the appetite for competition.
Flag football players are now competing for game-changing stakes: scholarship money, roster spots on national teams and a chance to represent their countries in the World Games -- perhaps even the Olympics as soon as 2028.
On Friday in Washington, D.C., the best co-ed and girls' teams in the country -- representing every one of the NFL's clubs and markets -- kicked off NFL FLAG's inaugural All 32 Summer Invitational Tournament. It's the Super Bowl of youth flag, with the country's top players on display.
The unfortunate thing? Not all competitors will have the option to play varsity football when they return home. States with storied football histories, such as Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Missouri, home of the reigning Super Bowl champions, are among the 42 that haven't fully sanctioned girls' flag in their schools.
Girls already have 1.3 million fewer high school athletic opportunities than boys, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation. Limited access is one of the main reasons that teenage girls drop out of sports.
So, state officials, athletic associations and anyone else who hasn't used their influence to expand flag for our nation's kids: What are you waiting for?
My life has been made fuller by football. Why shouldn't my daughters and granddaughters, or yours, have the same opportunity?
Flag football is the answer.
It's here, and it's the future.
The time to get on board is now.
Troy Vincent Sr. is the executive vice president of football operations for the National Football League and a five-time Pro Bowler. He also serves as the co-chair of Vision28, a partnership with the International Federation of American Football to lead flag football's inclusion in the 2028 Summer Olympics.