New York Jets tight end CJ Uzomah blown away by passion for NFL in the UK
CJ Uzomah admitted he was surprised by British fans' interest and knowledge of American football after encountering passionate NFL supporters on his trip to London.
Gridiron's global reach has expanded ever since 103,467 fans packed Mexico City's Estadio Azteca in 2005 to watch the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers contest the first regular-season game held outside the United States.
It would prove the catalyst for the launch, two years later, of the league's inaugural International Series, when the New York Giants beat the Miami Dolphins 13-10 at Wembley en route to winning the Super Bowl.
"It's incredible. Meeting different people, coming over here the knowledge is a lot more than I thought to be honest," Uzomah told Planet Sport.
"It's been very fun to be able to meet the people that I've been able to meet and talk football to the people I've been able to talk to, because it's not asking questions about rules or why is this, that or the other happening. It's in-depth conversations about the sport itself, so it's been fun."
Uzomah was in London to help launch the Jets and Bears NFL Girls Flag league, the first UK all girls' competition of its kind, with 100 girls aged 12-14 set to compete across five weeks beginning in April.
The 30-year-old American, who was selected by the Cincinnati Bengals in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL draft, has been a diehard Chelsea fan ever since high school when the Blues became his go-to team playing FIFA.
Uzomah had been to London before, but he had not been inside Stamford Bridge until Chelsea's 2-0 Champions League victory over Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday night, an experience he describes as "a dream".
Should Graham Potter need an advocate he could do worse than Uzomah, who suggested - like the under-pressure Blues boss has amid calls for his sacking - that transformation sometimes requires patience.
He said: "You're adding new players in who are trying to fit into the culture and that is going to take time. Sometimes it takes time to be able to build that. In my career there have been multiple new coaches who have taken three years and then you go to the Super Bowl. You wait two years, and then you're in the Super Bowl.
"I think we give him time and I think everyone needs to understand that you can't change a team overnight."
Uzomah also had a chance to visit Chelsea's Cobham training facility, where he watched a girls school and under-21 training session, and also got a chance to meet England internationals Mason Mount and Fran Kirby.
The NFL has in recent years worked hard to improve gender diversity across its ranks, and in 2022 hosted its sixth annual Women's Careers in Football Forum, which connects women with careers across the game. Its graduates include Jennifer King, the league's first black female coach and Salli Clavelle, the NFL's first black female scout.
Last summer, the Cleveland Browns appointed Catherine Raiche as assistant general manager and vice-president of football operations, a role she previously held with the Philadelphia Eagles - maintaining her status as the highest-ranking female in a football executive position in the NFL.
The Racial and Gender Report Card by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) also found that at the beginning of the 2022 season, the NFL had 15 women in coaching roles, the most ever in any professional men's league covered by its research.
TIDES' study also revealed an all-time high percentage, 41.3, were employed in the NFL League Office, while women held 24.3 per cent of all executive leadership positions across NFL clubs.
"I think it's a lot tougher [for women]," Uzomah admitted, adding, "the first to do anything is always the toughest, and to be able to take the initiative and say this is my passion, this is what I wanted to do and I'm going to do it, I love the NFL, I love football, I want to be able to be involved in this - that was the initial challenge but I think those barriers have been slammed to the ground."