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Flag football goes from the nation's gym classes to the Olympics


The National Football League will be going for gold at the 2028 Olympics. The International Olympic Committee announced last week that flag football will be one of the sports added to the Summer Games in Los Angeles.


The NFL sees the Olympics as an opportunity to expand its overseas fan base. Flag football is American football without the tackling, and the NFL has invested heavily in this gentler version of the game.


IZELL REESE: They want to see it kind of grow. They wanted to see it evolve and really saw this opportunity of flag football continue to grow in scale and grow globally.

MARTIN: That's Izell Reese, a former NFL player who runs the league's flag football program. The NFL has been trying - with mixed success - to expand its global audience. It's been playing regular season games in London and Germany. And 20 years ago, the NFL began creating youth flag football programs overseas. Today, it's in 12 countries, including the U.K., Ghana, Australia and China.


REESE: We currently have over 700,000 kids participating. And if you look at any of the sports that were added to the Olympics and any of the sports under consideration year over year, it's important to see, are our kids playing? Are youth interested in it?

MARTÍNEZ: The NFL is taking a page out of the NBA's marketing playbook. In 1992, the NBA sent the Dream Team to the Barcelona Olympics. Now, among the Hall of Famers on that team were, oh, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.


UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #1: Barkley behind the back for Drexler. He finds Mullin. Touch pass to Magic for 3. Yes.

MARTIN: The Dream Team not only won gold, but also won new European fans and interest among talented athletes. Before the '92 Olympics, the NBA had 23 international players.

MARTÍNEZ: Today there are more than a hundred, including All-Stars Nikola Jokic from the Denver Nuggets and Giannis Antetokounmpo from the Milwaukee Bucks. Now, the NFL plans to send its own star power to the Olympics. Miami Dolphins receiver Tyreek Hill is just one of the big-name NFL stars who says he wants to play in the 2028 Summer Games.

MARTIN: And who knows? Maybe Tay Tay - Taylor Swift - might show up to watch some of the games, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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