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Racial Bias Evident in NFL Lawsuit Settlement

The National Football League has been embroiled in lawsuits for nearly a decade from former players alleging that the league knew that its sport resulted in brain damage but failed to take appropriate action. In response, the NFL has pledged nearly one billion dollars as part of a class-action settlement for former players who’ve experienced brain damage playing pro football.

But there’s a wrinkle in the way individual brain injury claims have been adjudicated, and many former players and/or their families are claiming it results in unfair racial bias. When assessing players’ current capacity for cognitive function, doctors tend to apply a process that neuro­psychologists refer to as “African-American normative corrections.” This is more broadly known as “race-norming.” When these corrections are enacted, many players’ claims are denied on the basis that their lack of cognitive functioning is closer to the baseline readings of African-American players without brain damage. The unstated conclusion is that African-Americans are not as smart as White people.

In June of 2021, the NFL pledged to do away with race-norming as part of its settlement methodology, but plenty of former players and their families say they were unfairly cheated out of settlement money they deserved. Lawyers for those families claim that race-norming is “discriminatory on its face” and that it makes “it harder for Blacks to qualify for the settlement than whites.”

Chris Seeger, the lead attorney for the class of approximately 20,000 former players eligible for money under the settlement, apologized for not picking up on the practice sooner. He said:

I am sorry for the pain this has caused Black former players and their families. While we had fought back against the NFL’s efforts to mandate the use of “race norms,” we failed to appreciate the frequency in which some neuropsychologists were inappropriately applying these adjustments. 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.

Possible Preaching Angle:

Every human being is made in God's image and deserves dignity and respect. When we fail to offer that, we are liable to succumb to the soft bigotry of low expectations.

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