NFL and flag football: Why the league has taken interest, invested heavily in it


The quality of the NFL Pro Bowl has become virtually tackle-free in recent years as competitiveness and contact have declined significantly. and other outstanding players will be named to the team on Wednesday night.

But while trying to avoid adding player safety, fan dissatisfaction and unfair show elements to the change, there’s another reason: the NFL has come to see flag football as good for business. The league and its 32 teams are heavily invested in the contactless version of the sport, and the Pro Bowl is one way to shine more light on the game’s biggest stars. But the real commitment is at the national and international youth level, and depending on who you ask, there are several reasons.

“Flag is played by 20 million people in more than 100 countries,” said Troy Vincent, a former NFL cornerback and executive vice president of football operations for the league spearheading the Flag Football Initiative. (according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, 7). Last year, he had 1 million kids ages 6 and up play the flag in the US.) “This is important to note. This is not about this investment or time spent. This is not a new sport to attend the games of LA 2028 This is a place where people can change the way people see and feel about the game of football and where everyone can experience the value of the game. It’s the future of the sport of football, where you can enjoy the values ​​of , your colleagues and your children.”

Until recently, Flagg was largely on the sidelines of America’s booming sports-industrial complex. It was fondly remembered as a memory of summer camps bygone, played in a handful of youth leagues and schools. Although there was a flag football association, Tackle never seriously competed in attendance with his version. Not to mention the large horde of young people who have rushed to soccer and baseball over the decades.


NFL turns Pro Bowl into football game flag

The story is changing and changing rapidly. Since the mid-2010s, Flagg has been one of America’s fastest growing youth sports, according to SFIA, and as of 2021, he had seven million children playing. Youth leagues appear like mushrooms. Part of the surge is due to growing parental concerns about brain damage from tackling at an early age. It also reflects the emphasis on girls’ sports, as the flag is played by both genders.

But the NFL’s role is also important in understanding popularity, highlighting the efforts of professional sports leagues to retain and create young fans in an era of video games and media fragmentation. His more than 1,700 youth flag leagues and teams across the country and Canada are funded in part by America’s top sports, and this year’s attendance will nearly double his 2021 figure to 600,000. expected to reach. A healthy slice of Little League baseball that gives a sense of the magnitude of the effort going on.

In fact, the NBA launched its own youth league in partnership with the WNBA last month, and the NHL appears to be funding street hockey teams.

Beyond its youth league investments, the NFL is flagging media devices with ads promoting the sport, including ads during the Super Bowl in February. In addition to changing the Pro Bowl from tackle to flag football, the league is helping push the no-tackling sport into his 2028 Summer Olympics, making the NCAA and the women’s flag a sanctioned sport. are discussing about

“We are in constant communication with the NCAA,” says Vincent.

Already in colleges of the National Intercollegiate Athletic Association (NAIA), the women’s flag is a sanctioned sport in which athletes receive scholarships. For the past two years, the Atlanta Falcons have hosted a girls’ flag football showcase attended by NAIA recruiters.

A boy at an NFL flag football game at ESPN Wide World of Sports’ Pro Bowl Experience in 2020 (Kirby Lee / USA Today)

“I’ve seen girls from Georgia playing in college right now. Some have scholarships, some have offers, and they’re there by other means.” That’s it.” Flag the program for its homeland bordering Alabama and Montana (team owner Arthur Blank owns a ranch in the state). “But it’s great to see girls play at the next level through our showcase.”

The Falcons are team flag leaders, but not alone. Each team has some kind of flag football effort.

So why are the NFL and its teams investing so much in flags? As recently as 2014, the NFL gave USA Football, the governing body of the sport, $45 million to teach safer tackling techniques. I presented an oversized check with a photo shoot. That’s how the NFL has responded to concerns about the safety of its youth games. College football continues to provide a stable supply of talent for professionals. He also has two spring leagues available to players, the XFL and USFL.

Jeff Lewis, who runs the American Flag Football League, which is set to launch in five cities next year as the first professional flag football league, said the answer to the NFL’s Flag Epiphany is simple. in a fall.

“Obviously, less and less people will want to take the risks that come with tackling,” Lewis said. In the long term, fewer players could pose an existential threat to football.

The numbers confirm Lewis’ commitment to youth football. According to SFIA data, in 2010, his 6.8 million children aged 6 and older played his football tackles, which was slightly less than the number of flags. By 2015, the year after his check in the NFL’s USA Football, tackles dropped to his 6.2 million, while flags dropped further to 5.8 million, according to SFIA. Participation surpassed tackles for the first time since 2016, when the NFL began investing more in flags. In 2021, the gap will exceed 1.6 million, with more children playing flags than tackles, according to SFIA.

Lewis predicted that a crucial moment for the future of tackle football was fast approaching. First diagnosed in a former NFL player in 2005, brain-wasting disease is now only diagnosable postmortem.According to the Concussion Legacy Foundation, since 2005, deceased NFL players studied at Boston University’s CTE Center more than 320 brains of the population have been found to have the disease.

“When the day comes and you look at the percentage of people who play in the NFL, who play in college, who play other sports like hockey or soccer, it’s ..people who want to play tackle football.” The number of people is not going to increase,” Lewis said.

There’s another reason the NFL flags. The league’s goal is to make football a global game. Building a tackle team involves costs such as equipment, referees, and insurance. That’s a big hurdle domestically, and enough in a country without a football culture.How can the NFL attract young people who aren’t playing? Support.

“With 500,000 children in each age group, Japan has the opportunity to play Flag each year. I play football,” said Vincent. The Mexican women’s team upset the United States at this year’s Flag Football World Championship in Birmingham. Also, her 2024 edition, due in Finland, is expected to feature a record 24 men’s and 24 women’s national teams.

Members of the Women’s German Flag Football Team attend an exhibition during the NFL International Series game at the Allianz Arena in November. (Kirby Lee/USA Today)

But will flags replace tackling, or simply slow many kids competing in rough sports? Signs point to the latter, suggesting the NFL strategy is already working. doing.

Bobby Carpenter, who played football for six years at Ohio State University and the NFL, is a huge proponent of flag football, but only to a certain extent. His three children used to play flagging, but his two above now play tackle. He didn’t tackle until he was 13 years old.

In Carpenter’s view, the flag is a step to tackle, not a replacement. His kid’s flag league says about eight out of ten players have transitioned to the physical version.

In fact, Carpenter says there’s a risk of alarming kids as they get older. “A certain amount of flagging can be pretty dangerous,” he said.

Of course, some people think that tackles should be banned, if not completely, at least until high school. Chris Nowinski, CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, said in an email that the NFL is investing in flag football because it knows youth tackling “is not sustainable. “Both state that CTE is caused by repeated brain injury.” … there doesn’t seem to be anything altruistic about this change — they appear to be responding to changes in the market. We have something to say when we encourage.

Asked about the NFL’s view on the age at which children should start tackling, the league’s Vincent countered that the question was best suited for USA Football and declined to comment. Age requirements are “determined by regional league commissioners and may overlap or differ based on local conditions (registration numbers, access to facilities, number of coaches, etc.).”

Ultimately, it will be up to parents and their children to decide, with the exception of laws imposing age limits on tackles. Chadrink lives outside the football haven of Columbus, Ohio, with his wife, with whom he has six children. Four of him played in the flag, two in the tackle, one from his senior year and another from his sixth grade. But the duo didn’t stop at sports.



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Link admitted he was glad they dropped it.

“From all the research they’ve done and knowing how concussions work, I’m very glad neither was,” he said of continuing the sport. It’s not standard.

“More kids are probably playing the flag early on and waiting until like middle school or high school to tackle,” he said.

Falcons official Dinkel said that in addition to whetting the appetites of young players eager to play a full game, it has the added benefit of making players fans of the NFL. is aimed almost entirely at women’s flags, and the expectation is that not only the athletes, but their children will love and play soccer.

“We know that if girls grow up and grow in the sport of football, they become fans,” she said. I guess.”

(Top photo of young people participating in the NFL Flag Football program in Munich on November 11, 2022: Gary McCullough/Associated Press)


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