There’s nothing bigger in sports than the Olympics — the best athletes representing their countries before a global audience of billions.
American football has earned its shot on the stage. Last month, the International Olympic Committee announced that flag football will be included in the Los Angeles Summer Games in 2028, along with cricket, baseball/softball, lacrosse and squash, ratifying a recommendation made by the host city’s organizers.
It was a long time coming for football, which only had one Olympic appearance (the tackle version) as a non-medal demonstration sport in 1932 at L.A. But our work isn’t done yet. Flag football is the most inclusive, accessible version of America’s most popular sport. It opens the door to participation for girls, women, people with disabilities, and our neighbors who can’t afford full-contact equipment.
In other words, flag is football for all, especially those who have been on the sidelines. That’s the reason participation has surged in the U.S. and across borders, with more than 20 million players in 100-plus countries. That’s why we’re seeing the emergence of new stars and role models — players like quarterback Diana Flores, who led Mexico’s women’s national team to World Games gold.
“Football for all” is also why we need to keep pushing the movement forward.
For starters, flag football should be in every high school in the nation. Nearly 21,000 girls competed in varsity high-school flag football in 2022-23, representing an 86% jump over four years. But it’s a fraction compared to the 474,000 young women between 6 and 17 years old who played flag football in the U.S. last year.
The pipeline demands further expansion. Girls are lining up to play. Every year we see more states launching pilot programs or sanctioning girls’ flag in high schools, as New York did this past winter. But we need more than the eight states that have fully approved flag football as a varsity sport. It’s not enough.
The stakes are real. The sport’s growth has led to more opportunities for women to attend the college of their choice thanks to scholarships that didn’t exist a few years ago. Through flag football, more young people are learning life skills: communication, accepting feedback, and teamwork. The list goes on.
In the summer of 2028, billions of people will watch American football live from Los Angeles. Some for the first time. They might even see NFL stars competing on the men’s side. Buzz around the women’s tournament will be through the roof, too.
In every Olympic-viewing country, girls and women will be rooting for players just like themselves. They’ll form attachments to competitors who were given a chance to achieve athletic greatness and personal growth through American football. Flag football. Football for all. But if those same young women can’t try out for a flag team when school starts shortly afterward, we’ve missed our chance to make the most of the Olympic moment.
Let’s work on the infrastructure now. States, colleges, athletics associations, public officials — anyone with influence at home and abroad should build on the foundation of flag’s early adopters.
Listen to the three students outside of Buffalo, whose advocacy for a new flag team at Mount St. Mary Academy has provided a roadmap for how girls everywhere can organize an effort at their own schools. The NFL’s approach to girls’ flag was influenced by our conversations with these young women.
Consider the vision of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, which partnered with the NFL in 2020 to make flag football a collegiate sport. Now players are being recruited and earning their degrees on athletic scholarships. More than 100 NCAA schools are expressing interest in flag today — but the NAIA was first.
Study the operational excellence of RCX Sports, whose management of NFL FLAG has popularized local youth leagues across the U.S. and Canada. We’re talking nearly 600,000 players across 1,853 active leagues. Getting kids active leads to better outcomes in life, and they’re making it happen.
The NFL is all in, long term. The Olympics are a dream realized — a goal we’ve worked hard to move toward with our 32 clubs and partners at the International Federation of American Football. We’re grateful that the LA Games and the IOC view the sport as Olympic caliber, because it truly is.
The news is thrilling. The possibility of the Olympics as a launching point to make an even greater impact is just as exciting.
The work continues, and together, we can create opportunities by helping flag football achieve its true, infinitely accessible potential: football for all.
Troy Vincent is the executive vice president of football operations for the National Football League and a five-time Pro Bowler. He also serves as co-chair of Vision28 leading flag football’s inclusion in the 2028 Olympics.