Is the popularity of flag football giving a glimpse into the future of the NFL?

Dayna O’Gorman
Senior Sports Reporter

By Dayna O’Gorman // @DaynaOG

During Pro Bowl week in Orlando, one would think the focus would be on the NFL players and the celebratory game played at the end of each season. But what I discovered is another extremely popular aspect of Pro Bowl week…Flag Football.

The Play Football Flag Football championship tournament is played during the same week, in the same venue. With the NFL embracing flag football, are we seeing what the future may bring to the professional levels?

Imagine, millions of kids between the ages of 7 to 14, all playing football. It’s every NFL owner and Roger Goodell’s dream. But the dream has had to change over the last decade. With injuries, CTE, and other issues that have faced professional football, the league has had to focus on how to make the game safer. Parents simply didn’t want their children to play a game that could damage their future. Enter in flag football.

The popularity of flag has grown immensely in the last few years. Parents much preferred the non-contact aspect of the game, while still allowing their football-loving kids to play a sport that is so deeply ingrained in the American way of life. While flag football has basically the same rules as contact football, the injuries associated with it are minimal.

Mark Brunell, former NFL QB, at the Celebrity Flag Football game. Pro Bowl 2019

I spoke with Mark Brunell, former NFL quarterback who won a Super Bowl ring with the New Orleans Saints, during Pro Bowl week. He played on Team Snoop Dogg in the Celebrity Flag Football game. I asked him about flag football and what he thought of it.

“I think its great because it allows a lot of people to play the game without the contact part of the game. The physicality of it. Its a safer version of football that anybody can play, at any age, and it’s still competitive.”

“We have a lot of flag football programs all over the country and it’s benefiting so many people. And a lot of young people, especially, are a little intimidated by the contact side, the tackling football, so they get an opportunity to play flag football, learn about the game, be a part of it, but yet not have that physical element that kids are afraid of.”

And Mark is right. There are thousands of leagues all over the country. Boys leagues, girls leagues, and co-ed leagues. Smartly, the NFL decided to join in by starting NFL Flag. Partnering with a handful of teams like the Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans, Oakland Raiders, Miami Dolphins, and more, the NFL now sponsors flag teams and tournaments across the country. These youth tournaments all lead to the final competition during Pro Bowl week.

But flag football isn’t just for kids. The American Flag Football League was founded by investor Jeff Lewis in May 2017. A number of former NFL stars including running backs Justin Forsett and Fred Jackson, QBs Seneca Wallace and Michael Vick, have all played for the AFFL. NFL Network airs 11 games a season, and the league is gaining popularity. Players have said it frees them from the bulky equipment and allows them to have some personality, which makes the game so much more enjoyable as a player. Fans seem to love the more fast-paced, high energy play of the game.

But this isn’t just a game for aging NFL stars, or little kids to young to play tackle. With the rise in the popularity of flag at the youth levels, many expect flag football to become the future of the sport. Decreased injuries, less wear and tear on the body,  and longer careers could lead more athletes choosing to play in professional flag leagues. Add to that, the player pool would double as many women, who may have always wanted to play football but couldn’t, now have an avenue to play.

Only time will tell if Americans can let go of the hard-hitting, body crunching, gladiator type football, and embrace the flag.

Follow Dayna on Twitter // @DaynaOG

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