Debunking Myths: The Controversy Surrounding NFL Players’ Eligibility for Olympic Flag Football – Fact or Fiction?

With the Pro Bowl Games flag football showcase back for another year, it’s time to think about who should represent Team USA in the new Olympic event in 2028. Plus, the NFL should consider a different headline event for its annual all-star game.

So apparently the Pro Bowl is now officially called the “Pro Bowl Games,” which makes sense due to all the recreational activities the league has added, with hopes of saving the lackluster showcase of star players.

But the NFL still doesn’t get it—if you have multiple games, then you don’t have a headliner to care about. It’s similar to what John Madden once said about quarterback competitions: If you have two quarterbacks, you actually have none.

The NFL cheapened its Pro Bowl game—singular—to a flag football matchup between the AFC and NFC (I’m not exactly sure if that’s still the same format. It’s hard to keep track). But the mini games that took place Thursday probably delivered more excitement than anything that will transpire Sunday in Orlando for the flag football competition—unless Tyreek Hill, Raheem Mostert, Jahmyr Gibbs randomly participate in a 40-yard race at halftime.

But maybe I’m biased because I love all the mini games from Super Mario Party. Perhaps Nintendo will add a precision passing challenge because it was fun to watch Baker Mayfield and C.J. Stroud trade darts for their competition Thursday.

AFC receiver JaMarr Chase of the Cincinnati Bengals (1) catches the ball against the NFC during the Pro Bowl Games.

Bengals receiver Ja’Marr Chase is among the NFL players that could be eligible to compete for Team USA in the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles. Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

It’s cute that the NFL wants to turn the Pro Bowl into the Olympics, and that’s somewhat fitting because flag football will be added to the Summer Games in 2028. I doubt that will add to the competition level for Sunday’s flag football matchup, but that’s a good place to start for this week’s “Fact or Fiction” story, which is all about the Pro Bowl—and its issues.

NFL players shouldn’t be allowed to play flag football in the 2028 Olympics

Manzano’s view: Fact

I’m starting by firing off a hot take—like CeeDee Lamb hurling dodgeballs at his AFC counterparts. Many NFL players have made it clear that they want to participate in the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles for the flag football event.

But do we really need to see NFL players crushing other countries by 40-plus points to easily earn a gold medal? We already know the U.S. has the best football players for American football in the world. (I probably didn’t need to specify because it’s common knowledge the U.S. doesn’t have the best soccer players.)

I’m all for growing the sport, but it’s not like the Olympics will be outside of the U.S. promoting American football. There are enough football fans in Los Angeles—they might not all be Rams and Chargers fans, though.

Even if the Olympics were hosted overseas four years from now, I highly doubt crushing opponents will make youngsters from different countries fall in love with American football.

Perhaps it would be better in the long run if the first few flag football events at the Olympics were played without NFL players. Create an even playing field to grow the sport globally and then send in the big guns for the NFL’s version of the Dream Team.

But, hey, NFL players want to literally be known as world champions in 2028. Maybe U.S. sprinter Noah Lyles’s controversial comments didn’t just upset NBA players.

The Pro Bowl should host a triathlon for NFL players

Manzano’s view: Fact

The Pro Bowl and its many games will likely continue because it still draws high TV ratings. If it makes dollars, then it makes sense for the NFL. But here are my two cents that no one asked for on how to improve the Pro Bowl festivities: Add a triathlon competition.

Watching some of the best athletes in the world, all of whom are highly competitive, battling in a giant swimming pool in Las Vegas or on a safari-like bicycle course in the swamps of Florida would be wildly entertaining.

Heck, take my money now and make this the grand event on Sunday. Or make it the showcase on Saturday if the league still wants flag football on the Sunday of Pro Bowl weekend. Maybe invite a few celebrities, similar to the Lake Tahoe golf event in the summers.

Perhaps this idea sounded better in my head or I got caught up watching Saturday’s Olympic marathon trials. I can picture it now: kicker Justin Tucker emerges out of nowhere to surpass Travis Kelce at the finish line to disappoint Taylor Swift and all the Swifties.

(Revenge for tossing his equipment last week before their AFC title matchup.) Maybe NFL players don’t need to bike 24 miles and run for six miles because our attention spans are short nowadays. Anyway, I should move on before my triathlon pitch starts to make less sense.

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Gardner Minshew (10) leads a huddle in the AFC versus NFC Pro Bowl practice.

AFC quarterback Gardner Minshew huddles with teammates during a Pro Bowl practice. Nathan Ray Seebeck/USA TODAY Sports

Pro Bowl selections should matter during player contract negotiations

Manzano’s view: Fiction

Every year, several NFL players opt out of the Pro Bowl because they’ve done it a few times and/or they would rather play it safe to avoid injury. But many jump at the opportunity to participate because adding the title of Pro Bowler to their respective résumés often helps when it comes to contract negotiations.

It’s somewhat silly because being the third or fourth alternate on a Pro Bowl roster shouldn’t carry that much weight. And players shouldn’t be forced to participate in the Pro Bowl because it might help them earn more money. Obviously, players also go to be around friends, share memorable moments with family members and interact with fans.

That’s what the Pro Bowl should truly be about. What players did on the field during the season should be enough. This topic might sound minuscule, but league executives have mentioned to me that Pro Bowl selections do matter when it comes to contract negotiations.

The Pro Bowl should take place after the Super Bowl

Manzano’s view: Fact

One option for having less players pulling out of the Pro Bowl would be to have it after the Super Bowl, which used to be the case. Star players from the Super Bowl could have the option of ending the strenuous season with a laid-back environment at the Pro Bowl before disappearing for a month or two while on vacation.

Also, the Pro Bowl wouldn’t have to compete with the Senior Bowl and Super Bowl-related news for headlines. This probably wouldn’t help improve the product on the field for flag football or regular football, but having Patrick Mahomes, Kelce, Christian McCaffrey, Nick Bosa and many other players from Super Bowl LVIII participate in Pro Bowl festivities would only help.

Pro Bowl players should have podium interviews similar to Super Bowl opening night

Manzano’s view: Fact

Honestly, the only reason why I remembered the Pro Bowl this week was because many players spoke to the media for the first time in weeks and those quotes generated plenty of online headlines and buzz on social media.

For example, Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs spoke about his uncertain future in Buffalo, and Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was asked about his looming contract extension.

The NFL should embrace that and have something similar to Super Bowl media night, but with less questions about their favorite foods and best UFO encounters. The league has to find a way to make the Pro Bowl a spectacle again and this could be one way to do it.

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