December 10, 2018

Startup pro football league lists CT as founding location

Photo | Contributed
Photo | Contributed
The Hartford Colonials played pro football at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford in 2010.
Photo | ESPN
In recent years, the NFL has faced pushback on how it addresses player safety, pre-game protests, and other off-field issues.

A new pro football league focused on health and wellness and social justice has identified Connecticut as one of 10 locations to host a founding team.

Formed in 2017, the Freedom Football League was revealed last week as the brainchild of 50 former NFL players, including Ricky Williams, Terrell Owens and Jeff Garcia as investors.

With New England being the "birthplace of our nation's founding vision against tyranny and oppression," the spring football league said the Connecticut Underground will play in an unspecified city and venue when it debuts.

The six-state region, the league says, has opportunity for new leagues with only Boston hosting major pro sports teams. Plus, Connecticut has a "rich tradition of high school and college football," according to the league's website.

"The Freedom Football League is the perfect integration of my passion for social justice, economic equality and health and wellness, with my life-long dedication and love for professional football," Williams said in a statement.

FFL prides itself on a reimagined ownership structure, one where "billionaires" are "not welcome."

Under the ownership structure, all teams will be owned by a consortium of former NFL players, active FFL players and local franchise owners and fans who will be able to invest. The joint-ownership model ties together economic incentives for numerous stakeholders, the league says.

The league's website features a tab asking for team owners to "join the movement."

The league said it will attract high-level athletes, including former NFL players, who will receive "permanent and reliable holistic health and wellness support on and off the field." Players will also be urged to address social inequities, wealth disparity, health issues and other topics.

Meantime, the NFL in recent years has suffered pushback on how it addresses player safety, pre-game protests, and other off-field issues.

"Both organized collegiate football and current professional football represent an exploitative remnant of a plantation system that benefit the few and the rich at the expense of the poor and the many," the league's website says.

It's unknown when or where the league will debut in Connecticut. The team will compete in the eastern division alongside the Ohio Players, Florida Strong, Birmingham Kings and St. Louis Independence. The western division includes the Texas Revolution, Oakland Panthers, San Diego Warriors, Oklahoma City Power and Portland Progress.

While the founding locations will not have NFL teams when the league debuts, other competition will come from newly created pro football startup leagues such as the XFL and the Alliance of American Football.

Connecticut has had other pro football teams that were short lived, including the United Football League's (UFL) Hartford Colonials, which played one season in 2010 at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford.

In 2012, the UFL ceased operations after a group of players and team staffers sued the league founder after not receiving pay agreed upon in their contracts.

Years later, the United States Football League, which failed to reboot in 2015, named Hartford as a possible location for one of its new teams.

Michael Freimuth, executive director for the quasi-public Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA), which oversees several Greater Hartford entertainment venues, on Monday said his organization has not received an inquiry from FFL.

CRDA did, however, receive early inquiries from operators of the XFL, Freimuth said.

The Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) has also not been contacted by FFL, a spokesman said Monday.

The FFL announcement comes almost a month after the owners of the Hartford Athletic soccer club said they are looking to attract professional rugby and lacrosse teams to Hartford's historic Dillon Stadium.

This story has been updated to include comments from CRDA and DECD

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