The federal judge overseeing the NFL’s concussion settlement has officially scrapped the use of a race-based method to assess dementia tests for former black players, paving the way for thousands of players to file claims potentially worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Friday’s order from U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody, who has overseen the case since it began in 2012, ends a contentious 18-month fight that began after two former players sued the NFL for discrimination. They claimed the league was using race-based scoring methods that had the effect of denying benefits to black players in the groundbreaking class-action settlement that has approved nearly $1 billion in claims so far.
Last March, Brody dismissed lawsuits brought by Najeh Davenport, a former running back, and Kevin Henry, a longtime defensive end, but the cases highlighted the use of race-based assessments and garnered attention that eventually led to their withdrawal. Both men are black.
The settlement administrator must now redo the dementia tests taken by several thousand former black players who had submitted claims. They will be informed if their new scores allow them to submit a request for financial reimbursement. If they meet the scoring thresholds and have a qualifying diagnosis, their claims are still subject to appeal by the NFL and their cases may be audited.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” said Davenport, who along with Henry filed a discrimination lawsuit in 2020. “With race relations in America, we have a long way to go. I was happy to contribute.I hope other organizations will take notice and do the right thing.
Head injuries and CTE in sport
The permanent damage caused by brain injury to athletes can be devastating.
In their original claim, Davenport and Henry said that although doctors were not required to consider a player’s race when evaluating their claim, the league often appealed assessments that did not. did not use race-based references.
In October, the NFL and attorneys for all former players agreed to eliminate race as one of the factors when evaluating a player for dementia. A player’s age and level of education will always be taken into account.
In a 46-page document, the two parties agreed that “no racial standards or racial demographic estimates – whether black or white – will be used in the settlement program in the future” and that neither party will may appeal claims based on race or the use of racial norms.
In addition, all claims that have not yet been decided and all claims currently in appeal that use racial standards or racial demographic estimates may be subject to further assessments.
The race-based standards that had been used in the NFL’s dementia tests – one for former white players and another for former black players – assumed that former black players started out with worse cognitive function than former players. whites. A black player’s cognitive skills would have had to drop to a lower threshold than a former white player in order to qualify for a payout, or for the black player to qualify for the same payout as a white player, all other things being equal.
Cyril Smith, an attorney for Henry and Davenport, claimed dementia claims for white players were being approved at two to three times the rate for black players. Smith was unable to substantiate the discrepancy because, he said, the NFL and the settlement administrator refused to provide settlement payout data.
The case caught the attention of Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and other members of Congress, who requested data from the NFL to determine whether black players were discriminated against. . An ABC News report prompted more than a dozen wives of retired black NFL players to send Judge Brody a petition with nearly 50,000 signatures calling for an end to the use of race-based standards .
While some former players blamed the NFL, others criticized Christopher Seeger, the entire class’ lead attorney in the class action. Players say Seeger knew about the abuse of race-based benchmarks as early as 2018 and did not address the issue. Lawyers for Henry and Davenport petitioned the court to be appointed as additional attorneys for black retirees.
Seeger later apologized for not acknowledging the problems caused by the use of separate benchmarks for black and white players and pledged to rid the rules of potential racial bias.
“We look forward to further engaging with former NFL players and implementing this agreement, which will enhance a settlement that has already provided nearly $1 billion in benefits,” Seeger said in a statement Friday.