On Wednesday, the National Football League pledged to cease the use of “race-norming” – which assumes Black players started out with lower cognitive functioning – in a $1 billion settlement of brain injury claims and review of past scores for any potential racial bias.
ESPN reports that “race-norming” had made it harder for Black players to show a deficit and qualify for an award. Critics faulted standards that were designed in medicine during the 1990s to offer more appropriate treatment to dementia patients. They claim they were misused to assess legal damages in the NFL case.
Wednesday’s settlement announcement comes after a pair of Black players filed a civil rights lawsuit over the practice, medical experts raising concerns and a group of NFL families last month provided 50,000 petitions at the federal courthouse in Philadelphia, where the lawsuit had been thrown out by a judge overseeing it.
Subsequently, Senior U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody took the unusual step of asking for a report on the issue.
“Words are cheap. Let’s see what they do,” said former Washington running back Ken Jenkins, according to ESPN. His wife Amy Lewis led the petition gathering on behalf of NFL friends struggling with cognitive problems.
A panel of neuropsychologists recently formed to propose a new testing regime to the court includes two female and three Black doctors, the NFL says.
“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 stated on Wednesday via spokesman Brian McCarthy.
The NFL noted that the norms were developed in medicine “to stop bias in testing, not perpetrate it.” Both the lead players’ attorney and the league said the practice was never mandatory, but left to the discretion of doctors taking part in the settlement program.
The binary race norms in testing assume that Black patients start with worse cognitive function than whites and other non-Blacks. This is said to make it harder for them to show a deficit and qualify for an award.