Lawsuit against ‘race-norming’ in NFL dementia tests tossed

An investigation revealed clinicians were concerned about the league's protocols in which they say they were required to apply race-based adjustments to player's cognitive test scores


NFL logo The official NFL logo. (Credit: The National Football League)
By: Alyssa Wilson

In Philadelphia, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit that challenged “race-norming” in dementia tests for retired NFL players. 

Back in 2013, the NFL reached a multi million-dollar settlement with retired players over concussion-related brain injuries. 

In that case, more than 4,500 former athletes sued the league accusing it of hiding the dangers of concussions and rushing injured players back into the game. 

A person’s race is one of the demographic factors doctors consider when conducting tests for dementia. 

Lawyers say the testing assumes that Black athletes start with worse cognitive functioning than white people making it harder for Blacks to show a cognitive deficit. 

An investigation revealed clinicians were concerned about the league’s “race-norming” protocols in which they say they were required to apply race-based adjustments to player’s cognitive test scores. 

According to the Associated Press, the judge ordered the NFL and lead lawyer in the suit to resolve the $1 billion settlement through mediation, but this excludes the Black players who sued. 

Cyril V. Smith, the lawyer representing ex-NFL players Kevin Henry and Najeh Davenport, filed a notice to appeal the dismissal Monday. 

According to the lawsuit, both Henry and Davenport were denied monetary awards from the NFL but would have qualified if they were white. 

We are deeply concerned that the Court’s proposed solution is to order the very parties who created this discriminatory system to negotiate a fix. The class of Black former players whom we represent must have a seat at the table and a transparent process. – Cyril V. Smith

For Henry, the NFL said a second neurological evaluation did not qualify him for any compensation after his scores were adjusted and indicated that he fell in the normal range for Blacks. 

The NFL appealed the claim for Davenport, saying that his cognitive scores were correct for the Black race. 

NFL spokesperson Brian McCartney said the league is “pleased with the court’s decision.” 

This is not the first race issue for the NFL. BNC has examined the way race has impacted staffing decisions for coaching roles within the league.