We have a saying in the NFL: “Football is for all.”
That means regardless of gender, age, skill or body type, there’s a place for everyone in the sport of football.
Look no further than the World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, where 16 teams are competing for gold; women and men representing the U.S., Mexico, Austria, Brazil, Panama, Japan, France, Italy, Denmark and Germany.
Flag football not only made its debut as an official event at the World Games. It also represented the first time in World Games or Olympics history that an adapted sport was included as a medal-qualifying program.
This is so important. Athletes inspire our youth. Just consider the impact in both participation and advocacy after the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team won back-to-back World Cups. Representation on the international stage matters.
By establishing flag football as an international sport, we have a similar chance to galvanize young people behind a game that’s exciting, competitive, dynamic and, yes, inclusive.
There are 10,000-plus girls already participating in NFL FLAG leagues across the country. That’s just the start. NFL FLAG has quickly become the fastest growing sport in America, with over half a million participants and 1,640 active leagues, prompting six states to certify girls’ high school flag football as a varsity sport. More than 20 other states are either showing interest or already in the process of launching pilot programs.
Collegiate organizations such as the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) are also moving toward sanctioning women’s flag football. Because of flag, a sport that was once primarily for boys and men is now truly gender neutral, allowing all to play.
And as we’ve seen at the World Games, watching the women and men who’ve qualified for their national teams, the level of competition is incredible.
But there’s more to it than quality of play. The NFL is fully bought into flag at the 2022 World Games because it promotes the values and benefits of the game to fans around the world.
The non-contact version of American football encourages physical and mental fitness. It teaches transferable life skills of leadership, teamwork, resilience and respect — all the things I learned playing traditional tackle football on my way to the NFL.
The league has demonstrated that commitment by highlighting teams in the World Games on the NFL Network, deploying on-air talent for studio coverage, broadcasting the medal games live from Legion Field, and hosting a coaching clinic on site with NFL legends.
From a bigger picture, for more than two decades, the NFL has supported the international growth of flag by establishing offices in Canada, China, Mexico and the United Kingdom. These offices have assisted in growing both fan affinity and participation in flag football to nearly four million boys and girls this year. The NFL also invests significant resources in the growth of the game in other key markets, including Australia, Brazil, Germany and Japan.
All of that has led to this stage.
Flag football on display at the World Games, for the world to see.
We’re excited about where this is going. And the World Games will no doubt accelerate the emergence of flag internationally, while giving a voice to our ethos that football is for all.