How flag football being included in the 2028 Olympics could transform the NFL

People playing flag football.
Flag football is one of five sports being added for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics. AP Photo/David Becker

Five sports will be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics, including baseball/softball, lacrosse, squash and cricket, but the sport that has raised the most eyebrows is flag football.

Football is the most watched sport in the U.S., even as the National Football League grapples with increasing concussion statistics and safety concerns that have trickled down to youth athletics. But flag football? On the Olympic stage? It’s a safer alternative, but will the International Olympic Committee’s gamble on bringing American sports to the international stage pay off?

Dan Lebowitz, executive director of Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society, thinks it has the potential to not only change the Olympics but football and the NFL as a whole.

Headshot of Dan Lebowitz.
Dan Lebowitz, executive director of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

“There might not be infrastructure in many countries around [football], but there’s great international interest in American football,” Lebowitz says. “I think you’re going to see a proliferation of that sport, and that proliferation will lead to the possibility of it becoming entrenched in other countries around the world.”

For the Olympics, including a sport with the viewership of football, even in an alternative form, is a no-brainer. But Lebowitz says the impact the Olympics could have on football might be seismic.

The inclusion of any sport in the Olympics automatically raises its international profile. The NFL plays in London and Germany, and efforts like New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft building football facilities in Jerusalem have also helped generate some international interest. But Lebowitz says building infrastructure to support leagues and pipelines of talent in other countries has been an ongoing challenge.

“How you get to that conversation and that reality is to put something like flag football on the international stage,” Lebowitz says.

Including flag football in the Olympics opens the door to new players who might not have previously considered touchdowns and first downs. With many countries starting from the ground level with football, Lebowitz says it could create situations where surprising contenders could find Olympic success.

With the NFL exploring the possibility of letting NFL players compete in the Olympics, longtime fans may be able to see their favorite players compete internationally for the first time. And new fans will be able to see an often complicated sport played at the highest level. 

“When you put sports on a platform of either national or international visibility, that visibility leads to viability, and then that viability leads to people actually appreciating the beauty and value of that sport and the people who play it,” Lebowitz says.

Whether any team will be able to compete against the U.S. is a question that many have already assumed the answer to. Football is a cultural institution in the U.S., Lebowitz says, and years of experience and expertise mean something. 

But the 2028 Games could mark the beginning of a shift. Lebowitz points to how America’s place as a dominant force in basketball has changed dramatically over the last decade or so to the point where many of the NBA’s marquee players come from overseas. Years down the road, he predicts something similar could happen to the NFL and football abroad.

“American basketball and the height and excellence and expertise of those players in those international realms lifted the entirety of international basketball,” Lebowitz says. “If you think about flag football as the entry point on an international scale for people to engage in football, long term you will see people engaging with it and increasing their expertise in it. Then, at some point, what may not be [internationally] competitive at this early level will become incredibly competitive down the road.”

Cody Mello-Klein is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at Follow him on X/Twitter @Proelectioneer.

Cody Mello-Klein is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at Follow him on Twitter @Proelectioneer.