Drew Brees has already left his mark on football as one of the NFL's most prolific passers of all time. Now he's aiming even higher.
The New Orleans Saints quarterback is launching a co-ed youth flag football league that he hopes will grow into a safer alternative to tackle football across the country.
"I think that this has the opportunity to really save the game of football, honestly," said Brees, who didn't hide his passion or ambition for the Football 'N' America league, which will kick off this fall in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Covington, Louisiana, before expanding into other states next year and possibly nationwide someday.
"I think we're filling a void that is much-needed," said Brees, who developed the idea with longtime friend and marketing agent Chris Stuart while coaching their sons' flag football team in San Diego over the past two offseasons. "We felt like, you know what, we have the opportunity here to really create what will be the premier youth co-ed flag football league in America."
"I would not let my kids play tackle football right now, because I don't think that's necessary, and I don't think it's as fun at this level, and I just think there's too much risk associated with putting pads on right now at this age."Drew Brees
Brees played flag football himself growing up in Texas and didn't start playing tackle football until his freshman year of high school. He has long extolled the virtues of the noncontact version of the sport.
But it has really hit close to home for him and his family over the past decade, with the birth of his four children and the increased awareness of the dangers of concussions.
"I would not let my kids play tackle football right now, because I don't think that's necessary, and I don't think it's as fun at this level, and I just think there's too much risk associated with putting pads on right now at this age," said Brees, whose oldest son, Baylen, started playing flag football last year at age 7, with his second son, Bowen, starting this year at age 6.
"So how can I still allow them to enjoy the game and learn about the game and develop a passion for the game and enjoy everything it has to offer? Well, flag football," Brees said. "I think that flag football is the perfect alternative to the parents who have concerns about concussions and the injuries around football. Because you're still able to enjoy the game of football, but in a very fun, safe and yet competitive environment. And you can still learn all the same life lessons and values from a game of flag as you would tackle."
Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp also recently said he doesn't think kids should play tackle football before high school while announcing that he plans to donate his brain for research when he dies.
Brees and Stuart said they researched flag football and saw that void because they found there wasn't a lot of uniformity in youth leagues across the country. They also said they would also like to help create the type of family and community environment where games are a big event on Thursday or Friday night, followed by families going out for pizza together -- or heading to the big high school game later that night.
Stuart and Brees have worked together on dozens of community and off-the-field projects during Brees' career, including community projects that led to Brees being named the NFL's Man of the Year. Stuart said they're as passionate about this project as any other.
"I know what I want to experience as a player, as a coach and as a father when I watch my kids play. So I kind of come at this from all angles," said Brees, whose son Baylen's team won the league championship this year, by the way -- though it did lose a scrimmage game against a team that included Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers' son.
Brees will also help to coach the coaches in the Football 'N' America league by providing personal video tutorials and starter playbooks for coaches and commissioners. Registration opens Friday for the six-on-six leagues, which will range from kindergarten through eighth grade and be run in partnership with ProCamps.