Football will never be an Olympic sport for myriad reasons. While it would be fun to watch Patrick Mahomes throw 10 touchdown passes against some overwhelmed country or to sweat out a gold medal game between Team USA and American Samoa, it’s just not going to happen.
But the NFL is pushing for the next-best thing, and it appears to have a reasonable chance for success. The league reiterated to the Associated Press last week it will push to have 5-on-5 flag football played at the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles. While the IOC controls which sports are contested, host nations typically have some sway when it comes to finalizing the lineup.
It’s July. It’s quiet. So let’s have some fun and assume the NFL is successful. Here are some suggestions on how to introduce our country’s game to the world’s largest sporting event.
Convince Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski to play. The 2028 Games are scheduled to run July 21 through August 6. Even if the flag football competition jumped the gun and started a few days early (as happens with some sports), it’s hard to imagine the NFL will allow active players to participate (and risk injury) so close to/during training camps. The NFL may want to spread the gospel of football, but it is not going to touch the money while doing so.
That’s where Brady and Gronkowski come in. They will (presumably) be long retired from the NFL. And they’ll be up there in age: Brady will turn 51 during the 2028 Games; Gronkowski will be 39. And Brady would be a FOX employee providing valuable broadcast inventory to NBC! So this is a long shot.
That said … it’s not likely these guys will be out of shape. They’re not going to get hit. There won’t be much wear and tear. And you would think winning a gold medal would pique Brady’s interest. They would provide a “Dream Team” feel, even if the rest of Team USA’s roster is built out with college athletes and fringe NFL guys. It’s worth asking.
The Team USA head coach decision is important as well. Not that there will necessarily be much coaching going on. But just as having prominent players participate will generate excitement (and ratings for NBC, a league partner), so too will having a sexy name as coach. Again, it probably cannot be an active coach. If Sean McVay isn’t in the league at the time, he’s the no-brainer.
Use the Pro Bowl to generate interest. The NFL knows something has to change with the annual all-star game. And while eliminating it would make sense, the league is never going to forfeit a valuable television product. So throw together a few flag teams and play a quick-hitting mini-bracket with a big cash prize to the winning team. And push the Olympics narrative the whole time.
Get NASA engineers to design better-looking flags. This may seem ticky-tack, and it probably is. But flags look stupid. There has to be a way to make them not appear to be dangling noodles.
James Kratch can be reached at [email protected]