A community unlike any other, strengthened through challenges faced, united in football, united against hate. The A7FL wasn’t built overnight. Neither are the bonds of brotherhood forged on the football field. Each represents a shared struggle to overcome adversity, the outcome of which both have grown and strengthened as a result.
In 2006, two teams took to the field for the first time to play a new sport which would later become the American 7s Football League. At that time, there were no plans to expand, no ulterior motives, just a group of guys sharing the field to continue playing the sport they loved. No one could imagine that this unique form of America’s favorite sport would grow into what it has, and in turn create an entire community and brotherhood for everyone involved. With two out of three A7FL divisions owned and operated by African Americans, and a majority of athletes who are members of the black community, along with many other minorities represented, the A7FL crosses the boundaries of race and cultural diversity.
The A7FL’s stance on racism and inequality cannot be more clear: there is no room for either in our league or in our country. As stated by A7FL President Ryan DePaul, “A black tile on your social media doesn’t cut it. A hashtag or catchy headline that some public relations team crafts? No.” He continued, “Over the past 15 years, I’ve played in and commissioned this league alongside guys I consider to be brothers for life. To think that any one of them could become a statistic because of their skin color makes me nauseous. The A7FL is our public platform and if any part of our community needs to convey a distress call for change, I am 100% with it and so is the A7FL”.
The A7FL is unique to have experienced such player-led growth. The humble grassroots origins of the league have given both opportunity and outlet to amazing athletes that otherwise may have fallen through the cracks on the path to their football careers, and together with these athletes, the A7FL has flourished. True competition does not discriminate, and, in its purest form, gets the best out of everyone.
“With the obvious need for change in this country and around the world, I want to make it clear that the A7FL condemns racism and police brutality and that we vow to continue to play an active role in support of minority and African American ownership in the league’s expansion,” said A7FL CEO Sener Korkusuz.
Baltimore Commissioner Marcus Cole epitomizes the A7FL community, a man who is passionate about football and helping others. “We’ve come a long way,” says Cole, “We’ve had the cops called on us and been kicked off of fields when we first started, but I truly believe the growing pains have made us better together. We definitely have established ourselves since then.”
But Cole does more than just play a key role in the organizational growth and operations. “My phone is always going to be answered to my guys, literally whatever they need, on the field or off, whatever I can do to help out,” he continues, “I wear many hats, but mentor is definitely my favorite.”
Even amongst the tumult of current events, the A7FL fraternity shows its strength. “I had a close network of my team captains reach out to me about organizing a community cleanup almost instantly after some of the protests caused some damage in our neighborhoods,” says Cole. “We’re building something special,”
With the A7FL’s roots in Baltimore, early on the city’s African American community became intertwined with the league. “Over the years, I’ve had so many family members and locals thank me profusely for establishing something like this here,” says Cole, “They see the outlet for these men, they see the brotherhood, a lot of positive things. It really takes my breath away seeing kids coming to these games and idolizing some of the players. It’s really a genuine thing what we have here, and the community has been incredible.”
Others shared similar sentiments. “A7FL has brought everyone together, no matter their background, and it has made them brothers,” says Baltimore Cobras Captain DeAndre Gordon. “It has brought men from different areas together in a peaceful way, united by the love of the game,” says Baltimore Panthers GM Kareem Omar. “The A7FL brought together a group of men who under other circumstances most likely would have never come together to form the strong brotherhood that we have now,” remarks Thomas Ratliff, Baltimore Vikings owner.
These statements demonstrate that the league and it’s leaders do more than talk the talk of racial justice, they walk the walk. To that end, the league has committed to expanding its efforts to increase diversity amongst its team owners, executives and advisors. “We believe deeply in this cause and always have,” concluded CEO Korkusuz. “We pledge to stand together with nonviolent protestors who mourn the senseless death of George Floyd; speak up in concert with those who refuse to be silenced; and kneel alongside icons from our own sport, including Colin Kaepernick, who risk it all to advocate for social change.”
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