NFL agrees to end race-based brain testing in billion dollar settlement

The NFL agreed to end race-based adjustments in dementia testing that critics said made it difficult for black retirees to qualify for awards in the billion-dollar settlement of claims for concussion, according to a proposed agreement filed Wednesday in federal court.

The revised test plan follows public outrage over the use of “breed standardization,” a practice that only came to light after two former NFL players filed a complaint for civil rights on this in 2019. The adjustments, critics say, may have prevented hundreds of Black gamers with dementia from winning rewards averaging $ 500,000 or more.

Black retirees will now have the option of having their tests renamed or, in some cases, requesting a new round of cognitive tests, according to the regulations, details of which were first reported in The New York Times on Wednesday.

“We look forward to the prompt approval of the agreement by the court, which provides for a race-neutral assessment process that will ensure the accuracy and fairness of the diagnosis in the settlement of the concussion,” said the NFL in a statement.

The proposal, which has yet to be approved by a judge, follows months of closed-door negotiations between the NFL, lawyers for the group of thousands of retired players and lawyers for the black players who filed the lawsuit, Najeh Davenport and Kevin Henry.

The vast majority of the league’s players – 70% of active players and over 60% of living retirees – are black. The changes are therefore expected to be significant and potentially costly for the NFL.

“No racial standard or racial demographic estimate – whether black or white – will be used in the settlement program in the future,” the proposal says.

To date, the Concussion Fund has provided $ 821 million for five types of brain injuries, including early and advanced dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as ALS.

Lawyers for black players suspect that white men have been qualifying for rewards at two or three times the rate of blacks since the payouts began in 2017. It is not clear whether a racial split of the payouts will ever be made or made public. .

Black NFL retiree Ken Jenkins and others have called on the Department of Justice’s civil rights division to investigate.

The binary scoring system used in dementia testing – one for blacks, one for all others – was developed by neurologists in the 1990s as a crude way to take into account a patient’s socio-economic background. . Experts say it was never intended to be used to determine payments in a court settlement.

The league agreed in June, amid the uproar, to stop using racial normalization, which assumes black players start with lower cognitive function. This makes it harder to show that they are suffering from a mental deficit related to their playing days.

The NFL would not admit any wrongdoing under the terms of the deal. The league said it hopes the new testing formula, developed with input from a panel of experts, will be widely adopted in medicine.

To date, around 2,000 men have applied for rewards for dementia, but only 30% have been approved. In some cases, the NFL has appealed payments made to black men if doctors do not apply the racial adjustment. The new plan would ban any challenge based on race.

Prices are on average $ 715,000 for people with advanced dementia and $ 523,000 for people with dementia precocious. The fund, now uncapped, is intended to last 65 years, to cover anyone who retires when it was first approved.

“The NFL should be really pissed off about the standardization of racing. …. This should be unacceptable to them and all of their sponsors, ”said Roxanne“ Roxy ”Gordon of San Diego, the wife of a former impaired player earlier this week.

Amon Gordon, a graduate of Stanford University, finds himself at 40 unable to work. He twice qualified for an advanced dementia benefit, but the decision was overturned for reasons not yet clear to them. His case is still under review in the Philadelphia Federal Court of Appeals.

Nearly 20,000 NFL retirees have enrolled in the settlement program, which offers monitoring, testing and, for some, compensation.

“If the new process takes away racial normalization and more people qualify, that’s great,” said Jenkins, who does not have a disability but advocates for those who do.

“(But) we’re not going to get everything we wanted,” Jenkins, an insurance executive, said Tuesday. “We want full transparency of all NFL demographic information – who applied, who got paid.”

U.S. Senior District Judge Anita B. Brody, who oversaw the settlement for a decade, dismissed the lawsuit filed by Davenport and Henry this year on procedural grounds. But she then ordered the lawyers who negotiated the 2013 settlement – New York plaintiffs lawyer Christopher Seeger for the players and Brad Karp for the NFL – to work with a mediator to fix it.

In the meantime, the Gordons and other NFL families are waiting.

“Her life is ruined,” said Roxy Gordon of her husband, who spent nearly a decade in the league as a defensive tackle or defensive end. “He’s a 40-year-old educated man who can’t even use his skills. It was horrible.

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