Flag Football in the 2028 Olympics: Helpful or Harmful?
By Jack Bluestine
With the IOC (International Olympic Committee) announcing the addition of 5 new sports in the 2028 Olympics, flag football will be making its debut. This development has piqued the interest of the NFL, which is actively promoting and encouraging its players to participate in the upcoming 2028 Olympics. However, as the anticipation around this milestone grows, a series of pertinent questions and concerns have emerged from both enthusiasts and skeptics alike. Chief among them is the crucial inquiry: would it truly be beneficial for NFL players to participate in flag football at the Olympics? Does this exciting addition enhance the global image of the sport, or does it risk undercutting its international appeal by the sheer dominance of American players?
NFL players’ participation in the games hinges beyond elements like their willingness to play. The two-week July window in which the games are set to take place in LA happens to fall right between the start of NFL offseason training programs and camps. As a result, the timing has spurred ongoing discussions on how players would be able to get out of their current contracts to don the the stars and stripes at the games. Risk of injury is another objection in question, especially since the Olympics overlap with the start of the NFL season. If a high caliber player were to get injured during the games, it would affect their performance and health right at the start of the NFL season.
NFL owners have remained outspoken on these issues. When asked to comment on this debate, New York Giants owner John Mara said he would “probably not” want any of his players participating in the games. While other owners have voiced their support for players making their own choices, most are still non-committal. Owners of billion-dollar organizations may be wary of injury risks impacting their teams' performance during the season. While the full scope remains unclear, superstars like Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, and Rob Gronkowski have shown support for participation, and they are likely to be joined by other high-profile names.
While some criticism clouds the prospect of NFL players participating in the Olympics, there is also a buzz of excitement. From a skill standpoint, these players are top tier in their given sport and the Olympics has prided themselves as a global platform where the world’s best athletes come to compete. Many NFL players are also cultural icons. For example, players like Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce have viral social media platforms. Kelce holds 4.6M Instagram followers, while Mahomes is nearing 5M. As a collective, their ability to promote content surrounding the games and the sport as a whole would amplify football on a global level. And considering an average 17.5M Americans watch football, it is important that the country’s most prominent sport and players are represented at the highest level. The importance is further amplified when we factor in that America will be hosting the Summer Games for the first time since 1996. Even with the NFL’s involvement abroad with multiple games occurring in England and Germany over the course of the season, the Olympics would help to continue its global reach.
Even with the clear advantage the U.S. would have in these games, it is likely in both organizations' best interest to allow NFL players to participate. First off, the NFL consists of over 113 foreign players across the 32 teams. The ratio from American to foreign players still leans heavily in the U.S.’s favor, but with the growing numbers of international players joining the league, Olympic participation is a great opportunity to further open the sport to the world. After all, a focal point of the Olympics is for the best athletes to compete against one another. If the IOC or even the NFL were to restrict players from playing, it could do more harm than good.
The benefits that flag football would have on the Olympics depends fully on NFL players' involvement. Their already-national status within America will make for one of the most exciting events in the 2028 cycle. Just like the Dream Team caught the world's attention the summer of 1992, the impact this could have on the NFL’s global efforts would be immense. With this being more than four years away, only time will tell as excited fans are left to wait and see if this plan can come to fruition.