Right before the Carolina Panthers picked in the third round of the NFL Draft April 25, Marine Veteran Brad Lang appeared on TVs nationwide.

Lang announced a wheelchair football league through Disabled Sports USA and a grant from the NFL.

The league’s inaugural season (2020) begins in August and features four teams from cities in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Kansas City and Chicago. The program is made possible in part by an NFL-Bob Woodruff Foundation Salute to Service partnership to provide a “Healthy Lifestyles and Creating Community” grant.

Lang appeared with his son David via a prerecorded message. Both adorned Panthers T-shirts, representing their favorite team. He appeared right before the Panthers selected Troy Pride Jr., a cornerback from Notre Dame. Lang said the experience was “pretty crazy” for both him and his son, who he said is now “walking around the house like he’s a movie star.”

Lang originally hails from Alma, Michigan, where he played football from elementary school through high school as a defensive lineman. He played intramural football at Kettering University in Michigan, then played pickup games in the Marine Corps. Living in North Carolina for more than 13 years, Lang adopted the Panthers as his favorite team.

An improvised explosive device blast in Afghanistan in 2011 permanently disabled Lang.

Disabled Sports USA picked Lang to make the announcement because he serves as a warfighter sports ambassador for the group. He said the group helps get Veterans active and healthy through bonding and camaraderie, something wheelchair football will expand upon.

“I think it’s going to help a lot of people,” Lang said. He added being involved helps get Veterans plugged in with resources while keeping them healthy physically and mentally. He said Disabled Sports USA sports helps Veterans get feelings and adrenaline rushes they had before.

“It allowed me to remember what it was like before I got hurt,” Lang said.

Lang gets some care at the community-based outpatient clinic in Jacksonville, North Carolina, and prosthetic care at the Fayetteville VA medical center.

About the league

Wheelchair football will be like pro football in some ways. There’s four 15-minute periods. Scoring is the same. Forwarded passes and running plays dominate the offense. Referees will throw yellow flags for penalties. There’s also a 58-page rulebook.

The game differs from pro football in a few ways, though. Games will involve seven players from each side. Tackles are made when a defense player stops a runner’s advance by placing one hand on the runner’s body above the waist. The field is 60 yards instead of 100. First downs are at the nearest interval of 15-yard lines in advance of the spot of the snap that starts a series. There’s also penalties for blocking to the back of a wheelchair.

Disabled Sports USA modeled the game to be high energy and close to the sport people see on Sundays, said Karalyn Stott with Disabled Sports USA. She said each team will host tryouts in the coming months.

Disclaimer: The sharing of any non-VA information does not constitute an endorsement of products or services on behalf of VA.

By Air Force Veteran Adam Stump is a member of VA's Digital Media Engagement team.

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Published on Apr. 29, 2020

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