Inside the Rising Profile of Flag Football

We might see the sport in the 2028 Olympics

Flag football
Rotimi runs for a touchdown at the 5th Annual Athletes vs. Cancer celebrity flag football game hosted by Matt Barnes and Snoop Dogg on August 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.
Cassy Athena/Getty Images

The very name of flag football might well summon up memories of gym class activities in the autumn — or, if you prefer, star-studded affairs in which athletes and celebrities compete to benefit charitable causes. It’s not difficult to see why flag football is popular in more informal competitions like these — playing it features some of the same strategy as tackle football, but without many of the collision risks that haunted the game in recent years.

This year’s Pro Bowl is also venturing into flag football territory, which seems like a wise move — fans get a fun exhibition and players don’t have to worry about risking their health for an all-star game.

The rising profile of flag football didn’t emerge out of nowhere, however. At The Washington Post, Les Carpenter talked with Izell Reese, the former NFL player who’s now dedicated himself to the cause of making flag football an Olympic sport. As Carpenter writes, Reese’s cause of choice has gotten the NFL on board. Why? Because flag football is a lot easier to play — it’s co-ed, five on five and features a more minimal set of rules.

As the article details, the NFL has ulterior motives here — if more people are playing flag football on a grassroots level, it stands to reason that more people will start watching the NFL, wherever in the world they are. On the other hand, it’s also telling that two of the three most popular sports in the world — soccer and basketball — are appealing in part because of the low bar to entry. It’s not hard to imagine that flag football could take on similar levels of popularity.

As of this writing, flag football is currently being considered for the 2028 Olympics — though that doesn’t guarantee anything. But even if it’s not selected there, it’s not hard to imagine its profile continuing to rise, especially with the NFL in the mix.

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