The NFL announced Wednesday it would no longer use “race-norming” as part of its calculus to determine which former players were entitled to compensation as part of a billion-dollar settlement on players’ traumatic brain injuries. As a part of the 2017 settlement, the league was able to use so-called racial cognitive norms when evaluating the extent to which a player was suffering from the effects of a brain injury, which, in turn, determined the amount of compensation that player would get. The racial aspect of that equation is as outrageous as you can imagine: the NFL compensation calculation was predicated on the theory that race could be used as proxy for a number of other socioeconomic factors in determining a baseline for cognition.
The practical result of the practice was that when assessing the harm done to a player, the NFL’s equation held that Black players started with lower cognitive function, which made impairment harder to prove and, in turn, compensation less likely to be paid than to white former players. “More than 2,000 NFL retirees have filed dementia claims, but fewer than 600 have received awards,” according to ESPN. “More than half of all NFL retirees are Black, according to lawyers involved in the litigation. The awards so far have averaged $516,000 for the 379 players with early-stage dementia and $715,000 for the 207 players with moderate dementia.”
“The use of race norms in the NFL’s concussion settlement payouts first came to light last August, when two former players accused the league in a lawsuit of discriminating against hundreds—and potentially thousands—of Black former players,” the Washington Post reports. “In their suit, former players Najeh Davenport and Kevin Henry alleged that race-norming prevented them from getting settlement payouts. In Davenport’s case, he claimed that a doctor initially diagnosed him with dementia, but the NFL appealed and demanded his test scores get curved using race-normed data, which resulted in a reversal of the diagnosis.”
The “race-norming” provision was, astonishingly, an explicit part of the settlement agreed to by the players’ lead lawyer Christopher Seeger, who previously said he didn’t see any racial bias in how the settlement compensation was being administered. “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.