Football fans saw the usual two teams of 53 players wearing helmets and pads during Super Bowl 57, but they also saw a player who didn’t fit the mold. Her face wasn’t shielded by a thick facemask, and yellow flags flew behind her — not at her — as she juked and jetted about.
During a spot called “Run With It,” the NFL highlighted Diana Flores, a flag football ambassador for the league and the quarterback and captain of Mexico women’s national flag football team. In the ad, Flores is interviewed by Erin Andrews, races past Davante Adams in a parrot costume and Billie Jean King opening a car door, and has a moment at home speaking Spanish with an actress who plays her mother. All of them attempt to snatch her flags to no avail.
Flores, 25, won gold at the 2022 World Games, throwing four touchdowns en route to defeating the United States 39-6. This came a year after Mexico finished runner-up to the Stars and Stripes in the 2021 World Championships.
Flores plays the game for more than victories on the field. The Super Bowl commercial highlighted Flores’ mission in being the face of flag football: to empower women in sports.
“I feel so honored, to be honest, and happy to be part of this bigger movement,” she said in an interview with USA TODAY Sports. “I feel that right now women in sports, we’re having a good time in history and it was of course, thanks to the women that were before us that made able for us to be where we are. So to be part of this new movement, it’s just a blessing to me to somehow (be) a part to that growth of the game, specifically in flag football.”
Diana Flores is breaking barriers for flag football
Her jersey from the ad was placed in the Pro Football Hall of Fame alongside Adams’ costume and other items. It was the first piece of flag football memorabilia to be placed in Canton’s hallowed halls.
She also served as offensive coordinator for the AFC at the Pro Bowl in February with head coach Peyton Manning. U.S. women’s national flag football team quarterback Vanita Krouch, who has a scene in the Super Bowl ad with Flores, had the role for the NFC.
Flores caught the attention of Under Armour, who signed her as its first flag football representative in August. She is the first flag football athlete to sign a sponsorship deal with any major athletic company.
“Diana’s story is an example of resilience and dedication for young athletes,” Sean Eggert, SVP of Global Sports Marketing at Under Armour, said in a statement to USA TODAY Sports. “As Under Armour continues to invest in opening up new opportunities for women in sport, partnering with Diana Flores is an exciting step in reaching the next generation.”
“This is a dream,” Flores said. “… It was kind of a different dream because somehow it was something that I dream of, but didn’t imagine it was possible for me because of different things, because I was a little girl, Mexican girl, because I was a flag football player and flag football was not even the sport a lot of people talked about. … For me and for my family, it’s just a dream come true. And also, for flag football, it is a big, big, big step forward.
“Greatness start in the mind, start with whatever you think is possible for you with whatever you dream for yourself.”
The brand ambassador role also gives Flores the opportunity to give back to her community. Flores will host a flag football camp in Mexico in 2024 as part of the company’s UA Next platform, a program “designed to support young athletes of all skill and participation levels to reach their maximum potential,” Eggert said.
“For me, it’s not only about having a new sponsorship, it’s about creating a family, it’s about teamwork, it’s about making a change,” she said.
Diana Flores overcame doubt from others to achieve flag football success
Flores started playing flag football as a child and would play against boys and girls who were older than her. After playing in NFL Tochito — the league’s Mexico branch of its flag football program — she played in the United States and became the first Latina to play in the NFL Flag championships. She joined Mexico’s national team in 2014 at the age of 16. For college, she studied communications at Tecnológico de Monterrey on a flag football scholarship.
Flores’ father, Jaime, played tackle football in college and imparted the love for the sport to his daughter even if there weren’t other girls around.
“When I started playing, when I was younger, I didn’t have a big role model to follow,” she said. “Even though we had already amazing women who played in the sport, the sport was not featured in this big scenario worldwide. So I feel that because of that, I didn’t allow myself to dream big because it was not a possibility for a girl like me who started playing in Mexico City a sport that I was told it was for men.”
She said she never considered trying tackle football and she appreciates flag football because of its inclusive nature. As a woman who stands at 5’3″, she is no stranger to people doubting her abilities.
“I heard a lot of things like, ‘Oh, you are too young to play this. You are too short to play this. You are not too strong to play this position,’ etcetera, etcetera,” she said. “And an amazing thing about flag is that no matter who you are, no matter your characteristics, you can always find your spot in this sport. You can always find a way to make yourself better and stronger and to find your potential.”
Flag football is growing in popularity and participation. In 2020, Nike and the NFL pledged $5 million to growing the sport in high school for girls. The initiative also celebrated women involved in the NFL, including coaches, reporters and executives. The league reports that there were 15,700 girls who played high school flag football for the 2021-2022 season, 40% more than in 2018.
“I have to say, with the NFL’s advertisements, their excitement, they really have increased the number of flag football players for girls and women,” Diane Beruldsen, a flag football player and founder of the International Women’s Flag Football Association, told Just Women’s Sports in August. “The last three years, I’d say, flag football has really bloomed.”
Flores’ presence in the game also highlights a gap for Latino representation. Last season in the NFL, there was one general manager, one head coach and 0.4% of players who identified as Hispanic or Latino, according to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES). There are more than 30 million Hispanic fans of the NFL in the United States, according to 2019 data from SSRS/Luker on Trends Sports Poll.
The league has attempted to address this disparity in representation by engaging with fans through initiatives like the “Por La Cultura” campaign, which enlists Latino musicians, artists and other pop culture figures to appear in commercials, perform at halftime shows and paint ticket artwork.
Last year in Mexico, 100,000 people joined the sport for the first time, bringing the worldwide total to 20 million players in over 100 countries, according to the International Federation of American Football (IFAF). Flores is the chair of the IFAF Athletes’ Committee and she plays a “critical role” in the organization’s decision-making process, IFAF managing director Andy Fuller said.
Fuller, who has a background in physical education, praised Flores for her athletic ability.
“If you look at her from a pure performance perspective, she’s an incredible athlete,” he said. “… She’s a world class performer in every sense of the term, from her athletic skills to her mindset.”
But beyond her talent, Flores has a warm personality that draws people in. Fuller said in one week he got requests from teams and programs in Europe, Asia and North Africa to have Flores give them a “sprinkling of stardust.”
“She’s an educator, she’s an inspiration, she’s able to raise awareness about important issues and represent different communities in sport and beyond sport as well,” Fuller said. “We’re very fortunate to have her in our sport because she can do so much with so many people.”
The ability to communicate effectively is part of what drew Flores to the quarterback position.
“It’s more than just throwing a ball,” she said. “It’s more than making reads on the play. It’s about connecting on different levels with your teammates.”