NFL Thinks Black People Have Damaged Brains Already | NFL & Players Reach Agreement To End Race-Norming In Concussion Settlement Claims

The NFL reckoning has taken on the form of email scandals, racist team name changes, and now, race-based cognitive dysfunction diagnoses.

Thousands of retired NFL players have agreed with the league to end race-based adjustments in dementia testing. Notice of the settlement of past concussion claims was posted Wednesday — apparently by mistake — to the online docket of a Pennsylvania federal court. The notice was taken down hours after it went up.

The Settlement

According to the proposed settlement — which still has to pass review by a judge — Black retired NFL players can now have their tests rescored or seek a new round of cognitive testing.

However, the NFL had to address their use of “race-norming.” The practice assumes that Black players have lower cognitive functioning than whites, making it harder to show they suffer a mental deficit linked to their playing days. Black players who applied for benefits from the $1 billion concussion settlement in many cases saw their medical diagnoses of football-caused cognitive deficiency challenged by the NFL or the law firm that oversees the claim evaluations. Doctors have reported that they have been coerced into race-norming such players’ cognitive evaluation scores.

The NFL has not admitted any wrongdoing under the terms of the agreement. A new testing formula will be developed with input from a panel of experts hired by both the players counsel and the NFL.

Righting Wrongs

Two former NFL players filed a civil rights lawsuit shedding light on the practice in 2019. Hundreds of Black players that have dementia could have won awards that average $500,000 or more.

The proposal, which was intended to be filed under seal in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Philadelphia until its review by Judge Anita Brody, follows months of closed-door negotiations. The parties involved are the NFL, class counsel for the retired players, and lawyers for two Black players.

Former Steelers Najeh Davenport and Kevin Henry are the former players who filed suit Their claim was dismissed in March, but as part of the settlement revealed this week Davenport and Henry have agreed to drop their appeals of that dismissal.

Race Always An Issue

The vast majority of the league’s players are Black. Some 70 percent of the active players and more than 60 percent of the living retirees are African-American; adjusting to the race-based concussion assessments is estimated to be costly for the NFL.

To date, the concussion fund has paid out $821 million for five types of brain injuries, early and advanced dementia, Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), and Parkinson’s disease.

“No race norms or race demographic estimates — whether Black or white — shall be used in the settlement program going forward,” said the proposal according to reports.

Lawyers for the Black players estimate that white players were qualifying for awards at two or three times Blacks’ rate since the payouts began in 2017.

Unresolved Resolution

Unfortunately, a racial breakdown of payouts has never been made public, and there is no indication it ever will.

Additionally, Black NFL retiree Ken Jenkins and more have asked the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department to investigate.

On May 2, 2012, at age 43, Junior Seau committed suicide. Later an autopsy confirmed a diagnosis of CTE.

A National Institute of Health study found, “Since 1990, Junior Seau had a highly distinguished 20-year career playing for the National Football League as a linebacker, from which he sustained multiple concussions.”

Dementia testing uses a binary scoring system that produces curved results, one for Black people and another for everyone else. Developed in the 1990s, neurologists created the crude method that factors in a patient’s socioeconomic background.

By 2015, when a court approved a $765 million settlement that resolved lawsuits accusing the NFL of hiding what it knew about the risk of repeated concussions, race-norming had been introduced quietly introduced as an option for doctors in the evaluations process, player advocates claim.

Later, the cap on the funds was loosened when concerns that the money would run out arose.

The Future

About 2,000 men have applied for dementia awards to date but only 30 percent have been approved. Nearly 20,000 NFL retirees have registered for the settlement program, which offers monitoring, testing, and, for some, compensation.

However, the NFL has appealed payouts awarded to former Black players if doctors did not apply the racial adjustment.

The awards have averaged $715,000 for those with advanced dementia and $523,000 for those with early dementia. The settlement, intended to run for 65 years, will cover anyone retired when the settlement was first approved.

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