This is a guest opinion column
We have a saying in the NFL: “Football is for everyone.”
This means that regardless of gender, age, skill or body type, there is a place for everyone in the sport of football.
Look no further than the World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, where 16 teams compete for gold; women and men representing the United States, Mexico, Austria, Brazil, Panama, Japan, France, Italy, Denmark and Germany.
Flag football didn’t just make its debut as an official event at the World Games. It was also the first time in the history of the World Games or the Olympics that an adaptive sport was included in a medal qualification program.
It’s so important. Athletes inspire our youth. Just consider the impact on both participation and advocacy after the United States women’s national soccer team won back-to-back World Cups. Representation on the international stage matters.
By making flag football an international sport, we have a similar chance to galvanize young people around a sport that is exciting, competitive, dynamic and, yes, inclusive.
Over 10,000 girls are already participating in NFL FLAG leagues across the country. This is just the beginning. NFL FLAG quickly became the fastest growing sport in America, with more than half a million participants and 1,640 active leagues, prompting six states to certify high school women’s flag football as a varsity sport. More than 20 other states are showing interest or are 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 towards sanctioning women’s flag football. Because of the flag, a sport that was once primarily for boys and men is now truly gender neutral, allowing anyone to play.
And as we saw at the World Games, watching the women and men who qualified for their national teams, the level of competition is incredible.
But there is more to it than the quality of play. The NFL is fully bought into the flag at the 2022 World Games as 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 things I learned playing traditional football on my way to the NFL.
The league demonstrated this commitment by highlighting World Games teams on the NFL Network, deploying on-air talent for studio coverage, broadcasting medal games live from Legion Field and hosting a clinic. on-site workouts with NFL legends.
From a broader perspective, for more than two decades the NFL has supported the flag’s international growth by establishing offices in Canada, China, Mexico and the United Kingdom. These offices have helped increase both fan affinity and participation in flag football to nearly four million boys and girls this year. The NFL is also investing significant resources in growing the game in other key markets, including Australia, Brazil, Germany and Japan.
It all led to this step.
Flag football on display at the World Games, for the world to see.
We’re excited to know where it’s at. And the World Games will undoubtedly accelerate the emergence of the flag at international level, while giving voice to our philosophy that football is for everyone.
Troy Vincent Sr. is the Executive Vice President of Football Operations for the National Football League.