The National Football League (NFL) said on Wednesday it was “committed to eliminating race-based norms” in its $1bn settlement program with former players over brain injuries.
In an ABC News interview set to air on Wednesday, Christopher Seeger, an attorney for former players in the landmark concussion settlement said that the compensation program discriminated against black players by using a system known as “race-norming” in cognitive tests.
Former players Kevin Henry and Najeh Davenport alleged in a proposed class-action filed in federal court in August that the “race-norming” process, used to evaluate cognitive function, assumed a lower baseline cognitive functioning for black players than white counterparts, making it more difficult to qualify for a settlement award.
A spokesman for the NFL said parties to the settlement have worked with “members of the neuropsychological industry” and the magistrate judge in the case to “help identify alternative testing techniques.”
“Everyone agrees race-based norms should be replaced, but no off-the-shelf alternative exists and that’s why these experts are working to solve this decades-old issue,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a written statement.
“The replacement norms will be applied prospectively and retrospectively for those players who otherwise would have qualified for an award but for the application of race-based norms.”
Seeger said in a written statement that the settlement “only works if former players believe in it”.
“Today our focus is on eliminating the use of ‘race norms’ in the claims process and rescoring claims where they were applied,” he said.
The NFL spokesman said the diagnostic testing in the program relied on “independent professionals” using methodology “developed by leading medical and scientific experts”.
“That methodology was based on standard medical neuropsychological techniques long and widely used in leading practices,” he said. “Their origins were to stop bias in testing, not perpetrate it.”
The NFL Players Association did not have immediate comment.