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Black Retired NFL Players Petition for End of 'Race-Norming' in $1B Settlement

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIMay 15, 2021

AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

Ex-Washington Football Team running back Ken Jenkins and his wife, Amy Lewis, gave a petition with 50,000 signatures on Friday to Senior U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody, asking that retired Black NFL players receive equal treatment in determining the NFL's payouts as part of the $1 billion settlement that the league owes to retired players over brain injury claims.

The Associated Press (h/t ESPN) reported the news on the petition, which says that the league is using a "race-norming" technique that is shortchanging Black players' settlements.

Dave Zirin of The Nation broke down the history of race-norming, saying in part:

"The practice of 'race norming' harkens back 40 years, when aptitude scores, as a part of federal jobs’ applications, were adjusted to account for the race and ethnicity of the person taking the test. It was an admission that these tests were in fact racially biased. 'Race norming' was first used by the Carter Administration and then further implemented and extended by Reagan in 1981 (RINO!) before being subsequently outlawed by George H.W. Bush’s so-called 'Civil Rights Act' of 1991. Again, the purpose of 'race norming' was actually to counteract racial bias in aptitude tests. In other words, its goal was to correct racist practices, not to implement them."

The AP broke down what the race-norming process meant relative to the settlement:

"Under the settlement, however, the NFL has insisted on using a scoring algorithm on the dementia testing that assumes Black men start with lower cognitive skills. They must therefore score much lower than whites to show enough mental decline to win an award. The practice, which went unnoticed until 2018, has made it harder for Black former players to get awards."

Judge Brody, who is based out of Philadelphia, is in charge of overseeing the $1 billion settlement.

As the AP noted, most of the 20,000 men who have retired from the NFL are Black. However, only roughly 25 percent of the 2,000 retirees who have looked for awards for "early to moderate dementia" have earned them under the league's testing program.

Katherine Possin, who works as a neurology professor at the UCSF Memory and Aging Center, decried the race-norming process.

"Because every Black retired NFL player has to perform lower on the test to qualify for an award than every white player. And that's essentially systematic racism in determining these payouts," Possin said.

The initial $1 billion settlement was approved by Judge Brody in April 2015, per Lawrence Hurley of Reuters.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia upheld the settlement, and the Supreme Court refused to hear another appeal of that settlement in Dec. 2016, in essence upholding the deal for good.

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