A federal judge presiding over the NFL concussion settlement removed the use of race-based metrics to analyze the dementia tests of Black former players, the New York Times reports. This latest development will allow thousands of Black players whose claims were previously in limbo to receive compensation worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
United States District Judge Anita B. Brody, who's been overseeing the case since 2012, concluded an 18-month month-long battle that began after two former players sued the N.F.L. for discrimination. The suit claimed that the NFL utilized a race-based scoring methodology as a tool to deny benefits to Black players in the groundbreaking class action settlement that has compensated other former players to the tune of $1 billion in claims to date.
Last March, Brody dismissed the suits brought by Najeh Davenport and Kevin Henry but their lawsuits highlighted the discriminatory use of race-based assessments attention that eventually led to the clause being removed.
According to the reports, one race-based norm test was given to white former players and another for Black former players. The results stated that “Black former players started with worse cognitive function than white former players. A Black player’s cognitive skills would have had to fall to a lower threshold than a white former player’s in order to qualify for a payout, or for the Black player to qualify for the same payout as a white player, all else being equal.”
Cyril Smith, an attorney representing Henry and Davenport, claimed that white players’ dementia claims were being approved at “two to three times the rate of Black players.” Because the NFL and the administrator of the settlement refused to release any data on settlement payouts, he could not substantiate his claim.
After years of litigation, Davenport was glad to hear news of the decision.
“I think it is a step in the right direction,” Davenport said. “With race relations in America, we have a long way to go. I was glad to contribute. I hope other organizations take heed and do the right thing.”
Back in October, the NFL and lawyers for all former players agreed to eliminate race as one of the determining factors when evaluating a player for dementia. A player’s age and education level will still be considered. According to a 46-page document, both sides agreed that “no race norms or race demographic estimates—whether Black or white—shall be used in the settlement program going forward.”
Christopher Seeger, the lead lawyer in the case, who was highly criticized by Henry, Davenport, and other former players, offered an apology for not recognizing the problems caused by the use of separate benchmarks for Black and white players, and pledged to eradicate the potential racial bias.
“We look forward to further engaging with former NFL players and implementing this agreement, which will improve upon a settlement that has already provided nearly $1 billion in benefits,” Seeger said in a statement on Friday.
The administrator of the settlement is now tasked with rescoring dementia tests taken by several thousand Black former players who had submitted claims. They will be notified if their new results qualify them to file a claim for a financial payout. Although they may meet the threshold of diagnosis, “their claims are still subject to the NFL.s appeal and their cases can be audited.”