April 13, 2024

Devil’s Advocate: Flag Football is Good

7 min read
Its seems the NFL is moving towards a flag football league. Perhaps that's not as bad as it seems and might actually be something you enjoy.

This is completely a Devil’s Advocate article. I, Dustin Ludke, prefer the NFL I grew up with. I hate some of the QB protection rules, and while don’t want the massive hits, I want tackling. I want the defenses to matter.

Moving to flag football isn’t as bad as you think. The only reason you are up in arms right now is because you hate change and think it’s ruining the sport you love. Now let me say that yes, flag football will be a different sport. It’s similar to MMA vs boxing.

Is boxing bad because they have gloves and don’t allow kicks? No, it’s still a good sport and fun to watch. Flag football will still be an enjoyable game and I propose that it will be more of what you like and less of what you hate in football today. Let’s break down why moving to flag football is a move worth making.

Flag Football

Player Safety

Let’s face it, player safety is paramount. And you are for it as well. You want players to be safe, and here is how I know. What do we all hate the most? Injuries. We all get up in arms when our team or fantasy quarterback goes down. We hate seeing guys like J.K. Dobbins miss time, year after year.

We hate seeing a career not live up to the hype like Bob Sanders, Priest Holmes, Gale Sayers, Bo Jackson, and Terrell Davis. What would help save us from some of these injuries? Less hitting. It’s pretty simple — less contact leads to fewer injuries which is why many of the recent rules have changed. It’s why the kickoff was changed — the high impact was leading to injuries. We all hated seeing Tua Tagovailoa on the field with a concussion.

Do you know what else makes us all upset? The stories of former players struggling to function in normal everyday life. Look at one of the most recent cases, Drew Brees. He came out in November 2023 and said that his right arm “doesn’t work anymore.” We all felt bad for him and the fact that he couldn’t have a catch with his son. Do you know why he can’t? Injuries suffered during playing.

We all get upset that the medical care and benefits for former players weren’t good enough, and the players association has been fighting for it to be better.

Concussions have been a hot topic for years now, and with CTE still being studied and understood, we can’t understate the impact that it has had. We have seen the tragedies that CTE has caused — like that of Junior Seauand we need to do all we can to prevent concussions and head hits.

The NFL has done a great job trying to mitigate this by eliminating certain plays and investing in better helmet technology. They have made small changes that are leading us down this path. Let’s embrace it.

Let’s also talk long-term health of players. Flag football would eliminate the need for massive offensive linemen on both sides of the ball, and the game would be built on speed. We see all the time how offensive linemen drop weight after retiring because living a life at 340+ lbs is not healthy or viable long term. Look at Andrew Whitworth and Joe Thomas.

With fewer hits, we get to see players play longer, and we could see more 10-year careers out of running backs than we have. Heck, they might even get better contracts. Longer careers for players help them not only get paid more, but we get to see the players we love play longer. Would you rather see Bijan Robinson for eight years or 12?


More New Players

With player safety concerns becoming more and more prominent in the news, we have seen many former players come out and say they would not allow their sons to play tackle football. These players include Troy Aikman, Adrian Peterson, and Terry Bradshaw, and even defensive players like Bart Scott and Rashean Mathis.

The risk at such a young age to start developing chronic problems is just too great. Even if kids start at a later age — like high school, which some people suggest — we aren’t seeing as many players come into the sport. According to Statista.com research, in 2021, only 2.3% of children aged 6-12 participated in tackle football. That number is down from 3.3% back in 2016 and 2.8% from 2020.

Other reports, including one from the National Federation of State High School Association, show that the 2019-20 season was the first year under one million players since data was tracked back in 2003-2004. That is a 12.2% decrease from the peak in 2008-2009. With scary scenes like what happened with Tagovailoa and Damar Hamlin, parents are becoming more and more likely to keep their children out of the sport

So maybe flag football is the answer. A switch could encourage more players to get into the sport, and that not including the 2.4 million kids are playing in under 17 organized flag football leagues, according to the NFL. Having a safe environment for kids to learn football earlier in life and develop the skills that will directly translate to the top level would increase the odds we get the best athletes playing the game.

Flag football would also make the sport more international. Gone would be the days of having to have all the pads and equipment to play, so we could see more international players picking up the game and being able to come into the NFL. Having a more global reach could make Football, American flag football, the number one global sport by 2040 and overtake soccer. It could even make a push to be a full-time Olympic sport after being showcased in 2028.

New Game, Same Love

I know what you are saying. “It’s not the same game. It’s not the game I love.” I argue that it is the game you love. What are things that we all love to see in a football game? Big plays. We love those 80-yard runs for touchdowns. You know those highlights, the ones that make the rounds every week.

We all lament that kickoff returns never happen anymore and we all got up in arms when Devin Hester wasn’t inducted into the Hall of Fame his first year because he was such an electric player. Why not adapt the game to highlight those electric plays more often? Flag football would do that. It would allow the De’Von Achanes of the world to showcase their speed.

We all tweeted and TikTok-ed like crazy when Xavier Worthy broke the 40-yard dash record at the combine. Let’s allow that speed to really be shown on the NFL field. Flag football would do that.

We also all seem to hate the “crap” game where it’s 14-10, as the general NFL fan does not like low-scoring defensive games. Flag football would allow for more scoring and excitement. It also wouldn’t eliminate the defense, and we would still have the most exciting play on the defensive side of the ball. An interception.

We could see more interceptions with an increase in passing. Would flag football take away the run game? On some level, yes. Gone would be the straight-up-the-middle runs for three yards in a cloud of dust. It would be more outside-the-tackle runs that allow players to get into space.

Flag Football would allow teams and coaches to be more creative with their plays because they would have a faster offense. Look how much people love what Mike McDaniels and the Dolphins have done, building a team primarily based on speed. Flag football is the evolution of that.

Flag Football is not the same game that we have watched or that our parents watched, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. The NFL should make plans to do a full switch by the year 2030. Let’s pull the band-aid off instead of these slow incremental changes.

The long-term impact on player safety and marketing for the NFL gets a massive bump. We would see players play longer, get paid more, and have fewer lasting negative effects. We would also get to see more athletic players coming into the league and utilizing their skills.

Let’s face it — it’s already not the same game. It’s not what it was in the 90s, which wasn’t what it was in the 70s, which wasn’t what it was in the 50s. I’m sure people back in 1906 would have tweeted out how the forward pass ruined the game they love.

Ultimately, the game has and will continue to evolve. Let’s not fight it. Let’s accept — and even speed up — the evolution of the game. If you want men smashing into each other, you still have hockey and rugby. Let’s not pretend that the NHL hasn’t drastically cut down on fighting in the game, and Rugby banned hip-drop tackles last year.

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