Former NFL players, Kevin Henry and Najeh Davenport accused the league of racial discrimination in how it allocates concussion settlement money. This lawsuit has uncovered a disturbing practice, with a huge historical significance.
‘Race Norming’, refers to the practice of converting individual test scores to percentile or standard scores within one’s racial group. The use of this concept according to neuropsychology, explains that from a historical perspective the idea of cognitive disparities between races exists.
The reason for setting lower benchmark scores for Black people is to prevent them from being subject to overdiagnosis of cognitive impairment. But in the case of the NFL, it is having quite the opposite effect by making it more difficult for players to show cognitive decline.
When a former player files a claim for compensation, he undergoes a series of tests to assess his cognitive functioning. The result is then compared to a baseline score which is considered to be a ‘standard’, meant to represent a normal level of cognitive functioning.
If the scores fall far enough below the baseline, the player is eligible for compensation. But the norm for Black players is lower than the one for white players which makes it harder for Black applicants to demonstrate they have suffered severe cognitive impairment compared to their white counterparts.
Former Pittsburgh Steeler, Kevin Henry alleges that the NFL denied him compensation, despite being declared as, “cognitive decline consistent with mild dementia.”
Similar is the case with Najeh Davenport, who reportedly, suffered ten concussions in the NFL. When he joined the lawsuit against the NFL, initially, he won his claim. Then the NFL appealed the ruling and had Davenport’s test “race-normed.” The bending and curving of test results eventually led Davenport to lose lost out on the settlement.
Furthermore, in emails procured by ABC, most of the medical professionals who have worked with the league suggested that they were pressured into using the racial norms to measure the cognitive functioning of the former players.
Katherine Possin, Ph.D., of the University of California, presented a well-informed narrative, explaining how the NFL’s use of this ‘race norming’ practice adds to the long history of racial discrimination in the United States.
In her paper, she argues that medical professionals should use scientifically proven methods to assess cognitive functioning rather than clinging to race or other social factors. A comprehensive evaluation should be performed on players seeking settlement which should include neurological exam findings, cognitive history of the patient, and other related factors.
According to a report by ESPN, The settlement fund has so far paid more than $765 million to retired players for neurocognitive problems linked to NFL concussions, including about $335 million for dementia. Payments are expected to top $1 billion long before the 65-year settlement plan ends.
By looking at the constant support the players have gotten, whether it is through social media campaigns or road marches. It is clearly visible that this lawsuit has opened a door for many players to finally receive the concussion compensation they deserve after working hard and risking their livelihood to make the NFL what it is today.
This whole movement made Americans reflect upon the fact that how racism is systematically ingrained in their culture and they need to fight against it till the end.