March 13, 2021
There are some good news and some bad news related to the lawsuit against the NFL seeking compensation for players related to concussions and other injuries.
The good news is that the judge overseeing the litigation has ordered the parties to revise the compensation methodology to address serious concerns over "race norming" which results in lower compensation for black athletes. The judge stated that “the Court . . . remains concerned” about the race-based formula used to measure cognitive impairment to determine eligibility for compensation.
The bad news is that the judge took the issue out of the courtroom and sent it to mediation. As stated by the lawyer who represents some of the retired players, this means that the court's proposed solution is to order the very parties who created the discriminatory system to negotiate a fix while apparently excluding some of the players affected by it.
As you may know, the NFL had agreed to a settlement with retired players, but at some point later several players filed a lawsuit attacking the terms of the settlement, at least in part based on allegations of "race norming" in the process used to determine the proper compensation for players. It is this lawsuit that the federal judge dismissed as “an improper attack on the Settlement Agreement.”
In this story from ABC news you can also access a 11 minute video from the TV show Nightline.
At the crux of the controversy is the fact that the NFL's concussion settlement program manual recommends the use of a "full demographic correction," in which a player's cognitive test scores are compared to average scores, or "norms," for similar demographic groups, and then adjusted to account for expected differences in age, gender, education -- and race.The practice of adjusting test scores for race, widely known as "race-norming," is in use across several different medical fields as a supposed safeguard against misdiagnosis. But because these "norms," as used in a neuropsychology context, assume that the average Black player starts at a lower level of cognitive functioning than the average white player at the outset of their careers, Black players need to show larger cognitive declines than white players to qualify for compensation.. . . .In response to questions from ABC News, an NFL spokesperson issued a statement in February saying that . . . "[t]he settlement seeks to provide accurate examinations to retired players," . . ."and thus permits, but does not require, independent clinicians to consider race in adjusting retired players' test scores as they would in their typical practice."But in email correspondence obtained by ABC News, those same clinicians appear to disagree. One bemoaned their possible complicity in a system that perpetuated "racial inequity" in payouts.. . . ."Bottom line is that the norms do discriminate against Black players," [one] clinician wrote. "So now what? In this time of reckoning, like many professions, I think we need to look closely at the expected and unexpected ramifications of our practices."And a dataset shared exclusively with ABC News suggests that race-based adjustments could have a significant impact on payouts.At the request of an attorney who represents several former NFL players, a neuropsychologist who has evaluated former NFL players under the concussion settlement program recently rescored the results of cognitive tests from a group of 94 Black former players. . . . When the clinician interpreted the test scores as if those former players had been white, 34 of them met the criteria to receive payouts through the program. When the clinician applied the recommended demographic correction to those same scores, however, only 10 of those same players qualified.
UPDATE (March 18, 2021): The New York Times published an article today on this topic. You can read it here.
UPDATE May 17, 2021: Courthouse News has a new story on this topic here.