The league that prides itself on being the most “woke” in its alignment with social justice movements has just acknowledged allowing discrimination against its own players.
In the midst of a $1 billion settlement of past brain injury claims by former players, the NFL announced its intention to halt the use of so-called “race-norming,” a practice of adjusting test scores for race in which black players were assumed to have lower cognitive functioning than players of other races. The NFL has previously stated that the use of race-norms was optional, applied at the doctor’s discretion.
The settlement between the players and the NFL allows for retired players who were suffering from brain injuries sustained during their playing careers to be compensated by the league.
Bruce Miller, the director of the USCF Memory and Aging Center, said “Race-based norms are not scientifically sound or fair. Over-reliance on quantitative measures of cognition without understanding day-to-day function can lead to an incomplete picture of illness.”
Spokesman Brian McCarthy issued a statement on behalf of the league:
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. 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 attorney representing former players in the concussion settlement negotiations, Christopher Seeger, issued an apology to former black players in an interview with ABC News on Wednesday.
“I was wrong. I didn’t have a full appreciation of the scope of the problem,” Seeger said. “You think you know everything. Sometimes you don’t. But the closer I looked, the more I realized that this had to go.”
“I’m really sorry that anybody, any client of mine in this program has been made to feel that way. That is a big mistake. It was a failure of the system. I’m a part of that. But I’m also a part of getting it fixed.”
Seeger had previously stated that his firm had “not seen any evidence of racial bias in the settlement program.”
“I now have dug into enough claims to tell you that the norms were applied more than they should have been,” Seeger said. “And that’s why I’m saying I might have jumped to an early conclusion.”
The topic of “race-norming” was first brought to attention last year when two former players, Najeh Davenport and Kevin Henry, filed a civil rights lawsuit accusing the league of “explicitly and deliberately” discriminating against black players. Both Henry and Davenport were denied compensation and the case was dismissed before being sent to a mediator to take a closer look at the issue.
In an ABC report in January, doctors involved in the settlement program expressed their concerns that the practice of race-norming discriminated against black players.
The settlement between the players and the NFL was finalized in 2017 and accused the league of hiding their knowledge of a link between hits to the head and brain disease. It created an uncapped fund for former players who have been diagnosed with dementia, ALS, Parkinson’s, and other brain diseases.
This article has been revised for clarity.