The jet lag after flights from Brazil to Germany to England didn’t bother Bears receiver Chase Claypool.
He had too much to do, too much fun to have — even after a South American vacation — and a sport he loves to help grow.
“When you think American football you think tackle, you think physicality, you think, ‘Dang. Like, only maybe the men can do that,’” Claypool said. “But that’s not true. Because … flag football is the perfect opportunity for girls to be able to really play the same sport and to do it competitively and also have fun doing it.”
On Wednesday — International Women’s Day — the Bears and Jets announced the establishment of the first NFL Girls Flag League in the United Kingdom. It’s for 12- to 14-year-olds and will feature two conferences of six teams each. The Bears and Jets will each run one of the conferences in the Ealing borough of West London. The league’s championship will be on May 22.
Although he’s only been part of the Bears since November, Claypool jumped at the opportunity to represent the organization in England for the launch of the league. Claypool, who is from Canada, said he’s interested in growing the sport internationally and among girls and women. Tight end C.J. Uzomah represented the Jets.
Claypool began playing tackle football at 8 years old and flag at 9. The leagues coincided with each other with flag becoming another fun, “super competitive” option for him and his friends. His brother or a parent would coach the flag teams.
“There’s a wider range of people that can play,” Claypool, the NFL’s global flag ambassador, said over video conference. “Maybe there’s a couple of your friends who don’t want to deal with the physical part of tackle football, but they’ll love to play flag football, because you can basically get the same foundation of football: passing, throwing, catching. And then flag-pulling would be tackling. And you can with your friends who maybe their parents wouldn’t let them play tackle football.”
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It’s passing and catching but also the strategy of the game.
“Flag football is super cool because you can get creative with what you do to combat the speed and the size of other teams,” Claypool said. “You can do trick plays, you can do cool defensive schemes. There’s a lot you can do to kind to play smarter and give yourself that edge there.”
Flag football can also be similar to seven-on-seven drills, and as Claypool noted, seven-on-seven tournaments and showcases are now an important part of college recruiting.
“It’s a good opportunity to kind of develop your skills, have fun and kind of stay healthy through the offseason,” Claypool said.
But it’s the real season for many girls already — and the Bears are helping that cause.
In October 2022, the Bears hosted Illinois’ first girls flag football championship game inside the Walter Payton Center at Halas Hall in Lake Forest.
It featured two teams from the Chicago Public Schools, Kenwood and Taft, and the Western Suburban League, Willowbrook and Rockford Guilford. Willowbrook won the title.
The Bears, through Bears Care, helped launch a girls flag football league with CPS in 2021. Nike also was involved. There are now more than 50 teams after starting with 22. There is growth in the suburbs, too. More than 1,200 high school girls played flag football in 2022.
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In November, the Bears hosted a combine for 100 high school girls for NAIA schools and junior colleges that were considering adding the sport.
The next big step is making girls flag football an official Illinois High School Association sport. The hope is that it can happen by the fall of 2024.
“That would be super cool,” Claypool said. “It’s a very entertaining sport to watch. Obviously, the Pro Bowl introduced it into their games, and I think it’s starting to be taken more seriously. … It’s definitely a growing sport.”
(Top photo: Courtesy of the Chicago Bears)