Clinicians fear NFL’s concussion settlement program protocols discriminate against Black players

By Pete Madden, Cho Park, and Ryan Smith: For Complete Post, Click Here…

The NFL insists that its concussion settlement program does not require the clinicians who evaluate former players for payouts to make race a factor in their determinations. Several of those clinicians, however, appear to disagree, and some of them fear that the league’s recommended protocols discriminate against Black players.

In August, a group of neuropsychologists who measure cognitive decline in former NFL players seeking financial compensation through the league’s landmark settlement program took to their professional listservs to discuss some recent industry news. Two Black former players — defensive end Kevin Henry and running back Najeh Davenport — had filed a lawsuit against the NFL, accusing the league of “explicitly and deliberately” discriminating against Black players filing dementia-related claims.

The NFL has repeatedly dismissed the lawsuit as “entirely misguided,” claiming that the use of any so-called demographic corrections to interpret test results is left entirely up to “the sound discretion of the independent clinicians administering the tests in any particular case.”

But the former players are alleging that such corrections are, in effect, mandatory. And according to emails sent through private online forums, obtained by ABC News, some of those same clinicians lament that the league’s protocols supersede their professional judgement, sometimes leading to a “drastically different outcome” for former players seeking help.

At the crux of the controversy: the NFL’s concussion settlement program manual recommends the use of a “full demographic correction,” in which a player’s cognitive test scores are compared to average scores, or “norms,” for similar demographic groups, and then adjusted to account for expected differences in age, gender, education — and race.

The practice, widely known as “race-norming,” is in use across several different medical fields as a supposed safeguard against misdiagnosis. But because these “norms” assume that the average Black player starts at a lower level of cognitive functioning than the average white player at the outset of their careers, the former players say, Black players need to show larger cognitive declines than white players to qualify for compensation.

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