In a $1 billion settlement of brain injury claims, the NFL vowed on Wednesday to stop using “race-norming,” which presumed Black players started with inferior cognitive function, and to evaluate historical results for any potential race prejudice.
It was more difficult for Black retirees to show a deficit and qualify for an award due to this approach. The guidelines were developed in the 1990s to provide better care for dementia patients, but some criticized how they were applied to compensation in the NFL concussion case.
Last month, a group of NFL families dropped 50,000 petitions at the federal courthouse in Philadelphia — where the lawsuit had been thrown out by the judge overseeing the settlement after medical experts raised concerns, and a pair of Black players filed a civil rights lawsuit over the practice.
Later, Senior United States District Judge Anita B. Brody took the uncommon step of requesting a report on the matter. Black retirees are hoping for a breakdown by race of the almost $800 million in payouts so far. They are concerned that the information will never be revealed.
Former Washington running back Ken Jenkins said, “Words are cheap. Let’s see what they do.” His wife Amy Lewis led the petition drive on behalf of all NFL players struggling with cognitive problems.
According to the NFL, two female and three Black neuropsychologists recently formed a panel to recommend a new testing regime to the court.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, the NFL said, “The replacement norms will be applied prospectively and retrospectively for those players who otherwise would have qualified for an award but for the application of race-based norms.”
Christopher Seeger, the lead players’ lawyer who negotiated the 2013 deal with the NFL, said earlier this year that he had not seen any evidence of racial bias in the settlement fund’s administration. He later clarified his remarks on Wednesday, apologizing for any distress caused by the program.
Seeger said in a statement, “I am sorry for the pain this episode has caused Black former players and their families. Ultimately, this settlement only works if former players believe in it, and my goal is to regain their trust and ensure the NFL is fully held to account.”
The NFL stated that the norms were established in medicine “to stop bias in testing, not perpetrate it.” Both Seeger and the league claimed that the practice was never required but rather left to the discretion of doctors participating in the settlement.
On the other hand, the NFL has appealed some allegations made by Black players whose scores were not modified for race.
Jenkins said of the attention being paid to the issue, “If it wasn’t for the wives, who were infuriated by all the red tape involved, it never would have come to be.”
When binary race norms are utilized in the testing, they believe that Black patients have weaker cognitive performance than whites and non-Blacks. This makes demonstrating a deficit and qualifying for an award more difficult. According to their case, Henry and Davenport were denied prizes but would have qualified if they had been white, which Brody dismissed in March, calling it an improper “collateral attack” on the settlement. They have since filed an appeal against the decision.
According to the most current estimate, more than 2,000 NFL retirees have filed dementia claims, but just about 600 have received payouts. According to lawyers engaged in the case, more than half of the NFL retirees are black.
The 379 athletes with early-stage dementia received $516,000 on average, while the 207 players with moderate dementia received $715,000 on average. Alzheimer’s illness and a few other diseases are also eligible for compensation for retirees. Thousands of cases had accused the NFL of concealing information regarding the link between concussions and traumatic brain injury for years.