The NFL said it would scrap the use of a controversial race-based method of evaluating dementia claims made by former players in the league’s concussion and promised to evaluate for proof of bias the hundreds of claims already filed.
The order came several months after the federal judge who oversaw it about $ 1 billion. $ Settlement, ordered the league and attorneys representing the 20,000 former players covered by the agreement to review the use of separate standards to evaluate dementia in white and black players.
In August, two retired black players, Kevin Henry and Najeh Davenport, filed a civil lawsuit and a lawsuit against the seven-year-old settlement, which accused the league of “explicitly and deliberately” discriminating against black players by using separate race-based benchmarks to Determine their eligibility for dementia-based payments, which can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The judge rejected their suits, but the cases brought light to the evaluations and prompted members of Congress to request data from the NFL to determine whether black players were discriminated against. They also asked an ABC News report and led more than a dozen wives of black retired NFL players to send the referee in the case a petition with nearly 50,000 signatures calling for an end to racial norms.
As has been the case in previous responses, the NFL denied that the use of race-based norms was discriminatory. But in a statement Wednesday, the league said it was committed to eliminating the use of those norms and finding race-neutral alternatives with the help of neuropsychology specialists. Although these new measures have not been identified, the decision to review old dementia claims under new assessment tools could mean that potentially hundreds of more players will receive payments from the settlement.
“Everyone agrees that race-based norms need to be replaced, but there is no alternative layer, which is why these experts are working to solve this decades-old problem,” the league said. “The compensation standards will be applied going forward and with retroactive effect for those players who would otherwise have qualified for a prize but for the use of race-based standards.”
While some former players have accused the NFL, some have also targeted Christopher Seeger, the leading advocate for more than 20,000 former players who players say knew about the abuse of race-based benchmarks as early as 2018 and did not address the issue. Lawyers for Henry and Davenport, the two former players who accused the league of discrimination, asked the court to replace Seeger in March.
In a statement also released Wednesday, Seeger apologized for not acknowledging the problems caused by the use of separate benchmarks for black and white players.
“I’m sorry for the pain this episode has caused black former players and their families,” Seeger said. “Ultimately, this solution only works if former players believe in it, and my goal is to regain their trust and ensure that the NFL is fully held to account.”
It can take time to rebuild that trust. Lacey Leonard, whose husband, Louis, 36, played in six teams over five seasonssaid Seeger’s apology was not enough. Leonard received a solution after filing a dementia claim because he has a wide range of cognitive problems, including memory loss, anger and depression. When the claims attorney found no problems with Leonard’s claims, the NFL appealed the settlement, and his claim was reversed.
“Honestly, it was a half-apology,” Lacey Leonard said in a telephone interview.
The NFL did not say how long it would take for the league, Seeger and the expert panel to set up a new system for evaluating claims of dementia. More than $ 800 million in claims have already been approved by the conciliation administrator for a number of neurological and cognitive diseases. This number could increase significantly if many dementia claims that were initially rejected are reversed and approved.
It is unclear how many black players may have been misdiagnosed or had diagnoses that were overturned. More than 7,000 former players took free neuropsychological and neurological examinations offered in the settlement. Some of them were told that they did not have dementia and may not be aware of how their exam was scored.
Cyril Smith, a lawyer for Henry and Davenport, claimed that white players’ dementia claims were approved at two to three times the rate for black players. But Smith was unable to substantiate his claim because he said Seeger and the NFL had not shared any data on the approval rate for dementia claims from white and black players.
Seeger said data would be released once new tests for dementia claims and an investigation into whether players were discriminated against had been submitted to the court.