Earlier this week, the National Football League (NFL) announced that it will no longer use the term “race-norming” as it assumed Black players started out with lower cognitive function.
This is a result of a $1 billion settlement of brain injury claims that will review past scores for any potential race-related bias, which made it more difficult for Black retired NFL players to show a deficit and qualify for an award.
The rules were created back in the 1990s in hopes of offering more appropriate treatment to dementia patients, but critics faulted how they were used to determine payouts in NFL concussion cases.
“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,” the NFL said in a written statement issued Wednesday by spokesman Brian McCarthy. “Everyone agrees race-based norms should be replaced, but no off-the-shelf alternative exists and that’s why these experts are working to solve this decades-old issue. 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 announcement comes after several Black players filed a civil rights lawsuit over the practice. Medical experts had previously raised concerns, and a group of NFL families recently dropped 50,000 petitions at the federal courthouse in Philadelphia, where the lawsuit had been previously thrown out by the judge overseeing the settlement.
Attorney Christopher Seeger, who negotiated the 2013 settlement with the NFL, said he had not seen any evidence of racial bias in the administration of the settlement fund. He apologized Wednesday 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.
More than 2,000 former NFL players have filed dementia claims, but a little more than 200 have received awards, according to the most recent report. More than half of all NFL retirees are Black players.