NFL to Propose 'Race-Norming' Fixes in Dementia Testing in $1B Concussion Settlement

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVOctober 20, 2021

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - OCTOBER 10: Detailed view of the NFL logo on the goalpost during the game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Tennessee Titans at TIAA Bank Field on October 10, 2021 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
Mark Brown/Getty Images

The NFL will propose a new testing formula to determine the eligibility of former players to collect money from the $1 billion concussion lawsuit settlement, according to the Associated Press' Maryclaire Dale.

The step comes after the league announced in June it would cease using "race norming" as part of the process.

Wesley Lowery of CBS News reported in September how some former players and their attorneys believed Black players were having a more difficult time receiving payments as a result of the testing formula. Lowery explained why "race norming" was believed to be one cause:

"To qualify for a dementia payout, former players must prove that they've suffered from cognitive decline. But the testing is graded on a curve, known as a race norm -- and under those race norms, Black players are assumed to have started with lower intelligence than White players. That means a Black player has to prove a greater amount of cognitive decline in order to get the same payout as a White player."

The NFL responded to Lowery to say they didn't believe race norms to be discriminatory but that they "have recently been called into question in many areas of medicine."

Dave Zirin of The Nation wrote how "race norming" predated the NFL's concussion settlement by decades and was used for things such as aptitude scores included in applications for federal jobs.

Whereas the idea was supposed to address racial bias against minorities, it could serve the opposite function with the NFL's settlement since Black people are at a higher risk historically of suffering from cognitive decline such as Alzheimer's disease. 

Ken Jenkins, who spent four seasons in the NFL, told Dale that eliminating "race norming" is a step in the right direction but that he'd like to see more done.

"We're not going to get everything we wanted," he said. "We want full transparency of all the demographic information from the NFL—who's applied, who's been paid."

In 2013, the NFL initially reached a settlement with plaintiffs regarding concussion-related brain injuries.

Per Dale, only 30 percent of the more than 2,000 retired NFL players who have sought awards in the settlement have been granted them, and "many or most" of those individuals who have been denied are Black.

The litigation followed the PBS documentary League of Denial, which detailed how league officials became aware of the potential dangers of multiple head injuries and repeated blows to the head and failed to disclose those risks with players.


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