The NFL pledged to end the use of “race-norming,” which assumed Black players started out with lower cognitive functions, in the $1 billion settlement of brain injury claims. On Wednesday (June 2), the league also announced that they planned to review past scores for any potential race bias.
The practice made it harder for Black retirees to show a deficit and qualify for an award. The standards were created in the 1990s in hopes of offering more appropriate treatment to dementia patients, but critics faulted the way they were used to determine payouts in the NFL concussion case.
Wednesday’s announcement comes after a pair of Black players filed a civil rights lawsuit over the practice, medical experts raised concerns and a group of NFL families last month dropped 50,000 petitions at the federal courthouse in Philadelphia — where the lawsuit had been thrown out by the judge overseeing the settlement.
Senior U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody later took the unusual step of asking for a report on the issue. Black retirees hope it will include a breakdown of the nearly $800 million in payouts so far by race. They fear the data will never come to light.
“Words are cheap. Let’s see what they do,” said former Washington running back Ken Jenkins, whose wife Amy Lewis led the petition drive on behalf of NFL friends struggling with cognitive problems. Jenkins, an insurance executive, has so far been spared.
According to the NFL, a panel of neuropsychologists formed recently to propose a new testing regime to the court includes two female and three Black doctors.
“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,” the NFL said in a statement issued Wednesday by spokesman Brian McCarthy.
Lead players lawyer Christopher Seeger, who negotiated the 2013 settlement with the NFL, said earlier this year that he had not seen any evidence of racial bias in the administration of the settlement fund. He amended those remarks Wednesday, apologizing for any pain the program has caused.
“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,” Seeger said in a statement.
The NFL noted that the norms were developed in medicine “to stop bias in testing, not perpetrate it.” And both Seeger and the league said the practice was never mandatory, but left to the discretion of doctors taking part in the settlement program.
Better late than never.