Eagles Announce ‘Groundbreaking’ New Girls Football League

Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles The Eagles hosted a NFL Flag Regional Tournament for girls in November and a Mobile Jr. Pro Clinic in October.

When Carli Lloyd showed up at Philadelphia Eagles’ training camp in 2019 and booted a 55-yard field goal through the uprights, nobody flinched. She’s a world champion soccer player with a flare for the dramatic. Of course, her leg was strong enough to kick with the boys.

Lloyd’s appearance set off a debate on when the NFL might soon see a female kicker. There were rumors she would get a tryout and “serious offers” flooded her inbox. In the end, soccer tugged too strongly at her heart. She didn’t pursue football, but thousands of young women in Philly saw an opening.

The Eagles have long championed women’s equality with various ground-breaking initiatives. Their newest endeavor seeks to make girls flag football a state-sanctioned high school sport. The organization purchased $100,000 worth of sports bras and nearly 6,000 of them will be donated through their non-profit partner Leveling The Playing Field.

It coincides with the celebration of National Girls and Women in Sports Day on February 2. The goal is to gift a sports bra to every female athlete who needs one in the School District of Philadelphia. Why sports bras?

Because that was the equipment identified as the most needed following several conversations between Eagles’ brass and school officials from the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) and Archdiocese of Philadelphia. They want to put girls’ flag football on the same stage as other popular high school sports like field hockey, softball, and lacrosse.

“We’re committed to providing access and promoting availability for young women interested in football,” said Jen Kavanagh, Eagles Senior Vice President of Media and Marketing. “We’re relying on them as the fans of the future to energize the sport and take it to another level. And the launch of a girls’ flag football league, and the donation of necessary equipment, is a continuation of that commitment.”

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Getting Girls Flag Football Recognized

The Eagles are the first NFL team to support female youth athletes in this capacity, per Kavanagh, and the idea was nurtured in the front office. She credited owner Jeffrey Lurie, general manager Howie Roseman, and president Don Smolenski for getting behind it immediately. And they have the backing of the league which threw in a $50,000 matching contribution through the NFL Foundation.

“We’re always assessing current needs and where there might be deficiencies. This bubbled to the top,” Kavanagh said. “What we’re trying to do is get young girls and women playing in a sport they love and get it sanctioned by the PIAA. It’s tremendously important.”

The Eagles will launch a girls flag football league in Spring 2022 featuring 15 schools from the Philadelphia Public and Catholic Leagues. Their eight-game season kicks off on March 18 and includes a Jamboree at Lincoln Financial Field, plus a championship game at the NovaCare Complex practice facility. Nike will provide custom uniforms and the Eagles will dole out a $3,000 stipend to cover other football-related costs.

“We saw a need to support youth sports, specifically young girls in this case,” Kavanagh said. “If we are the ones that initiate that conversation, and it gets people to respond, then we are excited to be that.”

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), there are currently five states where girls’ flag football is recognized as a sport: Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Florida, Nevada. Regular-season schedules vary from 12 games to 20 games, with some states choosing to play in the fall or winter over the spring.

The sport continues to grow at a rapid pace, too. Florida is gearing up for its 20th flag football season this spring, according to NFHS, with an estimated 284 schools battling for two state championships. They shed the club label ahead of the 2002-03 season when 48 schools committed. Meanwhile, Alabama saw 44 schools commit to its pilot program in September 2021 and just wrapped up their first state championships.

Reaching Across Pennsylvania for Support

The Eagles will start with 15 schools in the Philadelphia area and use their vast network of allies to whip up support in Pennsylvania. The franchise has already reached out to the Pittsburgh Steelers and received their support. The Steelers hosted a free flag football Jamboree in November 2021 which saw 100 girls in grades 7-12 show up.

There is no concrete timeline for when everything might fall into place as it will take time to cut all the bureaucratic red tape. The ultimate goal is to turn those 15 Philly pilot high schools — Benjamin Franklin, Hill-Freedman, Frankford, St. Hubert, Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush, Archbishop Wood, Science Leadership Academy, Lansdale Catholic, Academy at Palumbo, South Philadelphia, Swenson Arts & Technology, Motivation High School, Neumann-Goretti, West Catholic, Dobbins Technical — into 100 high schools across the state.

“The valuable life lessons sport provides, such as teamwork, leadership, and character-building, extend far beyond the playing field,” Kavanagh said. “The more recreational opportunities we can provide for young women, the stronger our communities will be.”

That’s one part of the equation. The other has to do with the overall impact of women in football, another area where the Eagles have stayed ahead of the curve. They have more high-ranking female executives than any other NFL organization. Period. The Wall Street Journal reported that the Eagles “count five women among their executive team; that’s over half of owner Jeffrey Lurie’s top advisers.”

Kavanagh is one of those trusted advisers, something she doesn’t take for granted. She knows the power of perception and its influence on the next generation of women leaders. Flag football today, perhaps NFL Commissioner tomorrow.

“It’s hard to see a path when you don’t see yourself in these roles. Now they can see people that look like them in pictures and know they can achieve the same things,” Kavanagh said. “We are continually encouraged by the amount of women we see entering the sports world, especially at the executive level — diverse women, women of color, women of different creeds. This is a moment in time for advancement for women. And it’s really empowering, really exciting.”

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