Former Black NFL players deserve better than what the league has given them.
In a league that’s 70 percent, Black, retired players are struggling to get monetary assistance for brain injuries they sustained from playing in the NFL from the nearly $1 billion awarded in a settlement with the league in 2013.
Ex-Black players have had enough, and rightfully so.
Earlier this month, former Washington running back Ken Jenkins and his wife Dr. Amy Lewis delivered over 50,000 petitions demanding equal treatment for Black players to U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody, the judge working the settlement. The main crux of the issue for Black players is “race norming” making it harder for Black players to prove they need compensation for their injuries.
“Race norming” refers to the practice of adjusting neurological test scores to account for the race or ethnicity of the subject, a tactic scientists have criticized as discriminatory.
In simple terms, the test starts Black people off at a lower cognitive rate, which means that their neurological tests have to show significantly more decline than whites to reach benchmarks that allow them to get paid. It’s incredibly bad science and racist but this is what the NFL is using to determine who gets to gets cut a check and who doesn’t.
It’s something that Dr. Lewis, who has practiced in health for nearly 30 years and has been married to a former NFL player for more than 20, finds unacceptable.
“We are appalled and disgusted with the actions of the NFL and I don’t care what they tell you, they did this on purpose and they did this to save money,” said Lewis. “It was put in place after the concussion settlement was decided in secret because nobody in their right mind would have agreed to this.”
Reached by Deadspin, the NFL says there is no merit to any claims of discrimination and “the Settlement Program is committed to paying every legitimate claim.”
Here’s more from the league:
The number of players potentially affected by the use of race-based normative adjustments is a fraction of what has been alleged because, among other reasons, not all players are Black, several diagnoses do not use the subject tests, the application of the norms in those that do was discretionary, and many claims were denied for reasons that have nothing to do with the norms and any rescoring would have no impact on those denials. In any event, the Settlement Program already provides for re-evaluations of retired players who were previously tested over the settlement term and to the extent that certain denials warrant rescoring, the parties to the settlement will work with the Court on the appropriate scope of review.
Lewis said that at one point in time “race norming” was used to try to help Black people by leveling the playing field and not comparing Black people to other groups. However, it was still completely misguided and racist. She further explained that what “race norming” lacks is any socio-economic context that provides the true reality for Black Americans. It’s not ability that’s the reason for lower scores, it’s access. Yet, the NFL has no care about looking at the context of these issues, because at the end of the day it’s a numbers game for them.
“The NFL used race norming to deny players access to money that they were owed because they were injured during the game and have chronic issues related to concussions and 70 percent of the league is Black,” said Lewis. “You can imagine why this was important to put this in place. Racism is always economic.”
The league has been under fire for a while for neglecting its players after retirement. Players who have died of suicide, who have committed crimes, and have suffered from dementia and other brain diseases have just increased the negative stigma surrounding the league.
According to Lewis, the lack of transparency in the concussion settlement just adds to the black eye the league has earned, and there needs to be consequences for their actions or lack thereof.
“We need to look at the entire concussion settlement to make sure that it is fair for all players,” said Lewis, who stated that she thinks the league will get rid of race norming but will also find another way to make it harder for players to receive compensation.
“Many fear because this negotiation is being done once again in secret, that instead of making it easier for players to qualify, they’re going to make it far less able for all players to qualify. So what they’re going to replace the race norming issue with is something that makes it much more difficult for any player to qualify when they’ve been hurt.”
What the NFL is notorious for doing is fixing an issue and then making it look like it was all the league’s idea and that they had no idea these egregious practices were going on. Yet, for many people, including Lewis, there needs to be steep and punitive damages for the league in addition to having the players, and players’ families who have been hurt, adequately compensated for their racist actions.
It’s up to former players and others who are in support of justice to continue to fight against the NFL and get these players what they rightfully deserve.
“I think it [speaking out] is incredibly important and most important for those like my husband who are cognitively OK for now.” said Lewis. “There’s nothing for the NFL to hold over our heads, we have the ability to speak out for those Men who cannot.”