The National Football League pledged, after reaching a recent $1-plus billion concussion settlement, to halt the practice of “race-norming” when reviewing claims of head injuries by Black players that they endured during their careers.
Race-norming is the practice of adjusting test scores or test outcomes to account for the race or ethnicity of the test-taker. The U.S. federal government started using race-norming in 1981 with little publicity but it was later outlawed by the Civil Rights Act of 1991.
Race-norming standards were designed in the medical community in the 1990s in the hopes of offering more appropriate treatment to dementia patients, but critics faulted the way they were used to assess legal damages in the NFL case, ESPN reported. Although the practice was banned on a federal level, the NFL continued to use it.
By using race-norming, the NFL assumed that Black players started with lower cognitive functioning than their white counterparts. The practice made it much harder for Black players to show cognitive impairment and thus qualify for a monetary award, USA Today reported.
As part of the lawsuit settlement, the NFL agreed to stop the practice, which was first brought to public attention in 2020 by two former players who accused the league of discriminating against hundreds — and potentially thousands — of Black former players, The Washington Post reported.
In their lawsuit, Najeh Davenport and Kevin Henry alleged that race-norming prevented them from getting settlement payouts. According to Davenport, a doctor initially diagnosed him with dementia but the NFL appealed and demanded his test scores get curved using race-normed data. This resulted in a reversal of the diagnosis.
A judge dismissed the case brought by Davenport and Henry earlier this year and called in a mediator to examine the issue. Then on June 3, the NFL settled.
“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 NFL said in a statement Wednesday, Associated Press reported.
The new settlement could help affect past payouts former Black players have received as well as denied payouts.
While more than 2,000 NFL retirees have filed dementia claims, fewer than 600 have ever received awards, according to the most recent report. More than half of all NFL retirees are Black, according to lawyers involved in the litigation, ESPN reported.
Race-norming was a hot topic on Twitter.
“Most job selection methods (i.e. aptitude tests) are used to hire works are just classist, racist pro-eugenics bullshit. Just ’cause Black folks in America are able to pass it better than say a white-skinned, blonde indigenous Sami in Sweden doesn’t change that,” Finlay Puffin @FinlayPuffin tweeted.
“We are committed to eliminating race-based norms in the program and more broadly in the neuropsychological community,” the NFL said in a statement.
Despite the settlement, the NFL has failed to apologize. The league used race-norming following a historic $765 million concussion settlement in 2013 over brain injuries among its 18,000 retired players. The NFL agreed to compensate victims, pay for medical exams and underwrite research.
The NFL says race-norming was never mandatory, but that’s simply semantics, USA Today reported. The NFL continued to appeal some claims filed by Black players if their scores weren’t adjusted for race.
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