Dozens of young Turkish flag football players stretch on a field at Istanbul Technical University on March 1.
ISTANBUL — At first glance, the scene of boisterous young athletes stretching on a university field this Sunday would have seemed ordinary in soccer-obsessed Turkey. But it wasn’t soccer balls they were holding. Instead, the hundred or so young athletes, roughly half of them women, were warming up to play flag football alongside a dozen NFL players.
As part of a 10-day outreach program headed by American Football Without Barriers, the NFL players — including Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams, and Cleveland Browns tight end Gary Barnidge — are training hundreds of Turkish men, women and children in American football.
But what made Sunday’s event even more remarkable was its female component — the forty-nine young women challenging Turkey’s conservative social and religious norms to be able to play sports just like the boys.
As the afternoon came to a close, there was one final set of drills — boys versus girls. The dozens of players sprinted one by one, crawling on all fours, and catching footballs until it came down to a final few.
The young women on the other side of the field erupted into cheers as their last player bounded toward them, finishing before the last young man — a small but memorable win.
Cleveland Browns linebacker Barkevious Mingo leads a huddle with a group of female Turkish flag football players.