The National Football League has said it will stop using “race-norming” to determine which players qualify for payouts in its $1 billion settlement made for brain injuries. It said it will also review past players’ assessments that were made using the flawed race-based methodology. Pennsylvania’s Senior U.S. District Judge Anita Brody requested a report on the $800 million that has been paid out so far since 2013, and Black retirees would like to see a breakdown of that money according to race. However, they have little faith the truth will ever come out.
The standards in question were originally developed in the 1990s for working with dementia patients. However, when they were brought to the NFL, the standards were applied with the assumption that Black players naturally possessed lower brainpower than non-Black players. This bias accordingly made it harder for them to prove cognitive decline due to injuries sustained during their careers versus their White and other non-Black peers.
Attorneys for retired Pittsburgh Steelers Kevin Henry and Najeh Davenport first raised questions with the protocols when it was revealed their clients were unqualified to receive any payout from the 2013 settlement. Per the suit, Davenport and Henry would have been awarded damages if the same metrics were applied, assuming they were white.
“Actions are going to have to back up what they say they want to do,” said former NFL running back Ken Jenkins to the Associated Press. Dr. Amy Lewis, Jenkins’ wife, spearheaded a petition drive that received 50,000 signatures for former players and families whose qualities of life are now hampered by cognitive decline. “If it wasn’t for the wives,” Jenkins said, “who were infuriated by all the red tape involved, it never would have come to be.”
League spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement, “We are committed to eliminating race-based norms in the program and more broadly in the neuropsychological community. The parties to the settlement have been working with the magistrate judge and have assembled the leading members of the neuropsychological industry to help identify alternative testing techniques.” Reports from the AP are that the league proposed a new panel which would include “two female and three Black doctors.”
Christopher Seeger, the lawyer who negotiated the 2013 settlement on behalf of all the players, said “he had not seen any evidence of racial bias in the administration of the settlement fund” earlier this year. However, Seeger has since apologized for its outcome. “I am sorry for the pain this episode has caused Black former players and their families,” he said in a statement after the ruling. “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.”