The NFL has promised to end ‘race-norming,’ which assumed Black players have lower cognitive function and made it harder to make brain injury claims

NFL race-norming petition
Former NFL players Ken Jenkins, Clarence Vaughn III, and their wives, Amy Lewis, and Brooke Vaughn, depositing petitions calling for an end to race-norming on May 14.

  • The NFL has vowed to stop the use of “race-norming,” a practice that dates back to 1990.
  • The two-tiered scoring system assumed that Black players have a lower cognitive function than white colleagues.
  • Race-norming made it more difficult for Black retirees to get compensation for brain injuries suffered in the league.
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The NFL has vowed to stop “race-norming,” a two-tiered scoring system which set a different benchmark for Black and white retired players making brain injury claims.

The norms, which were created in 1990, were used to determine which of the 20,000 former players filing brain injury claims would be eligible for awards from the NFL on a roughly $1 billion dollar settlement, the Associated Press reported.

As part of the settlement program, the player’s brain function scores were to be adjusted against an average score, or “norm” for similar demographic groups, a practice called “race-norming,” ABC news reported.

This norm assumed that the average Black player would start at lower levels of cognition than white players, meaning they would have to score lower on the test to prove that they had sustained brain damage to qualify for compensation, ABC News said.

The league has denied that the practice is discriminatory, saying that this was meant “to stop bias in testing, not perpetrate it,” AP News reported.

A “replacement norm,” will be developed by a panel of neuropsychologists, the NFL, and magistrate judge Christopher Seeger, the lead lawyer who represented the class of retired players, The New York Times reported. But the league did not say how long this would take.

The new norm will be used to reevaluate claims from Black retirees who would have otherwise qualified for the award if it wasn’t for the race adjustment, the NFL said.

The league said that practice was never mandatory, but left to the discretion of doctors taking part in the settlement program.

However, the NFL has appealed some claims filed by Black players not adjusted for race, according to AP News.

An ABC News investigation in 2018 also uncovered emails from doctors involved in the settlement scheme in which they say that they are all but required to apply the race-based adjustment.

Two retired NFL players, Najeh Davenport and Kevin Henry, were denied awards that would have been granted if they had been white, according to a civil rights suit and a suit against the settlement raised in August last year, the AP reported.

Both Henry and Davenport’s cases were dismissed in March by Senior U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody, who is overseeing the settlement and ruled on the original court case. At the time of the dismissal, Brody called the case an “improper collateral attack” on the settlement, according to the Times. Brody’s ruling has been appealed.

After the dismissal, Brody ordered an investigation, led by Seeger, into concerns about the league’s use of separate scoring curves, the Times reported.

The news of the investigation led a dozen NFL retired player’s wives to send Brody a petition calling for an end to race norming, which got almost 50,000 signatures, the Times reported.

The involvement of Seeger in the court-ruled investigation on race-norming has been called out by Davenport and Henry’s lawyers, who expressed doubt that he would represent Black players fairly. Seeger and the NFL, they said, introduced race-norming into the settlement agreement, the Times reported.

Seeger had previously said that his firm had “investigated the issue” and “not seen any evidence of racial bias in the settlement program,” ABC News reported.

In an interview with ABC News’ Nightline released on Wednesday, Seeger walked back his statements, saying: “I was wrong. I didn’t have a full appreciation of the scope of the problem.”

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