American Football…in China.

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With only minutes left, the Quarterback knew he would need to make every play count, or else he could kiss all chances of the championship goodbye. The ball was snapped, four steps back, he finds an open receiver and throws a bullet, which is just barely caught by its receiver, who books it past the safety into the end-zone, winning the game.

The victorious team, now the crowned champions, celebrates in typical style by cheering, gallivanting, and popping bottles, all to the tune of “We Are the Champions”… except in this case, the championship team is the Chongqing Dockers, one of the first teams of the American Football League of China.

A group of true underdogs, they went from strangers who barely knew how to play the sport, to a well-oiled machine with the help of former Michigan Wolverine tight end Chris McLaurin (President of the American Football League of China). McLaurin was not only a player, but a coach as well. With his guidance the players were transformed from barely knowing how to block or tackle, to mastering the basic mental and physical aspects of American football.

The Chongqing Dockers | Photo courtesy of City Weekend

Interest in American football is growing at an incredible rate, with a 462% fan base growth in the last four years. Recent interest is so high that, as of 2014, 36 teams (not all at the CAFL level) have been organized across China. That’s roughly 1500 players; a huge increase from 2012, when China only had 3 teams, with around 100 players. With an influx of footballers, the current problem facing the future of American football in China is how to provide proper mentorship which can teach China’s youth how to play the game inside and out, while developing the sport in a safe environment.

It is this need that drove McLaurin to co-found the Gridiron Leaders Foundation in 2014 with the multifaceted mission of providing effective American football education, while simultaneously promoting cultural understanding between Chinese and Americans through athletics. Former and current American football athletes (at the NCAA collegiate level,) are offered the following opportunities:

  • A 9 month opportunity to coach a Chinese American Football League team.
  • Placement in one of 18 teams across 12 cities, including Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing, and Chengdu.
  • An intensive Chinese language program
  • An internship in a partner organization for professional development
  • A 20,000 USD grant (covering travel, housing and living expenses)

The Gridiron Leaders Foundation (GLF) Fellowship Program offers institutions and student athletes the opportunity to be the vanguard of change in an increasingly globalized world, and they need like-minded organizations to be their partner institutions for the Fellow’s internship placement sites. If your organization or business is interested in cultivating effective global leaders who will develop lasting friendships with their Chinese counterparts through coaching and learning, contact the GLF directly.

This foundation takes up to 12 applicants from select nominating institutions each calendar year. Applicants should submit their application documents to the GLF Fellowship Program by the March 15 prior to the program year. Any American university that has an NCAA level football program can become a nominating institution.

For more information on the groundbreaking work being done by the Gridiron Leaders Foundation be sure to check them out at, and read more about the team that started it all here.

*Photos courtesy of GLF