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NFL welcomes addition of flag football to Olympics

Flag football was one of several sports the International Olympic Committee announced will join the slate of sports in 2028.
NFL welcomes addition of flag football to Olympics
Posted at 2:03 PM, Oct 16, 2023

The Summer Olympics are returning to the U.S. in 2028 for the first time since 1996, so it is no wonder that a form of American football will be included for the first time. 

Flag football is among the new and returning sports the International Olympic Committee will include in the 2028 Olympics, which Los Angeles will host. Baseball, softball, cricket, lacrosse (sixes) and squash will also be included in the 2028 Games, the IOC announced Monday. 

Squash will join flag football in making its debut in 2028. Baseball and softball were Olympic sports in 2020, but dropped for the 2024 Games. Cricket was last included in 1900, while lacrosse was part of the 1904 and 1908 Olympics. 

“The choice of these five new sports is in line with the American sports culture and will showcase iconic American sports to the world, while bringing international sports to the United States. These sports will make the Olympic Games LA28 unique,” said IOC President Thomas Bach. “Their inclusion will allow the Olympic Movement to engage with new athlete and fan communities in the US and globally.”

While it is unclear if the NFL would release players to participate in the Olympics, the 2028 Games are slated to be held just before the traditional August start of the preseason. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell also welcomed the announcement.

"The NFL is committed to working together to strengthen flag football's place in the Olympic movement long term, and we look forward to continuing this exciting journey with IFAF, the LA28 Organizing Committee, the International Olympic Committee and USA Football," he said.

Sportico sports business reporter Eric Jackson said the NFL is eyeing foreign markets and hoping to globalize its game much in the same way as the NBA or the various European professional soccer leagues.

"That's the NFL's main focus right now," Jackson told Scripps News. "I mean, Roger Goodell, he would say, right, getting the game in front of more eyeballs across the globe."

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There is some precedent for allowing active NFL players to compete in the Olympics. In 2016, the New England Patriots permitted Nate Ebner to join Team USA's rugby squad. He ended up playing in all 16 games for the Pats that season. 

While flag football has long held its own biannual championship, the NFL's partnership with organizers could pave the way for league participation in the Olympics. 

“As the governing body of American Football in the United States, we are committed to continuing to work closely with International Federation of American Football, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee and the NFL as we pursue our collective efforts to grow the game for current and future generations," said Scott Hallenbeck, CEO of USA Football.

Baseball and softball returned as Olympic sports in 2020 after being left out in 2012 and 2016. 

While softball has often drawn the sport's best players, active MLB players generally don't participate in the Olympics. The team the U.S. fielded for the 2020 Olympics included past All-Stars such as Todd Frazier and Scott Kazmir, up-and-coming minor leaguers and professionals playing overseas. 

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