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NFL vows to end ‘race-norming’ policy which assumed black players ‘had lower brain function’

NFL vows to end ‘race-norming’ policy which assumed black players ‘had lower brain function’
The NFL has pledged to end so-called 'race-norming' in instances of traumatic brain injury settlements after reports it had assumed that black players had 'lower cognitive functions' in comparison to their peers.

In effect the policy made it more difficult for black NFL players to demonstrate a decline in their brain health which may have been onset by a career on the gridiron when putting forth cases for compensation from the league.

The policy has been in place in the NFL since the 1990s when it was created to allow for more robust treatment of dementia patients – but detractors of the plan have railed against it, saying that it has had a negative impact on black players' ability to claim compensation payouts in concussion cases.

The announcement by the NFL comes after two black players filed a civil rights lawsuit in relation to the practice, while medical experts have also announced their opposition to the policy. Furthermore, a petition started by a group of NFL families addressing the matter gained more than 50,000 signatures and was delivered to a court in Philadelphia after the lawsuit had been dismissed by a judge.

"Words are cheap. Let’s see what they do," said ex-NFL player Ken Jenkins, whose family was involved in instigating the petition which was launched in support of several former players who are said to be struggling with their brain health following NFL careers.

The NFL, for its part, has said that it has formed a new panel of neuropsychologists to oversee the issue, which includes two female and three black doctors. 

"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 said Wednesday in a statement.

Lawyer Christopher Seeger, who has negotiated settlements with the NFL in the past, has said this year that he had not seen any instances of racial bias in prior cases – but pulled back on those comments this week. 

"I am sorry for the pain this episode has caused Black former players and their families," he said. "Ultimately, this settlement only works if former players believe in it, and my goal is to regain their trust and ensure the NFL is fully held to account."

The NFL had also noted that the policy was designed “to stop bias in testing, not perpetrate it" – but it had also previously appealed settlement cases if the judgement of a medical professional on a player had not been adjusted to indicate their race.

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Former Pittsburgh Steelers Kevin Henry and Najeh Davenport, who had both pursued a claim, were turned down after an investigation but claim that they would have qualified for a financial reward under their circumstances had they been white. 

Latest figures indicate that more than 2,000 former NFL players had filed claims following dementia diagnoses but only around a quarter of these claims had been successful. 

A previous settlement issued by the NFL had averaged $516,000 for players with early-onset dementia and $715,000 for those with moderate dementia. At the time, this essentially ended a series of thousands of individual lawsuits which had maintained that the NFL had deliberately withheld information regarding the potential risks to brain health which can often come hand in hand with an NFL career. 

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