PHILADELPHIA -- Two years after a pair of former players sued the NFL over the treatment of Black retirees in the league's $1 billion concussion settlement, hundreds of men whose medical tests were rescored to eliminate race bias now qualify for awards.
The newly approved payouts, announced in a report Friday, are a victory for NFL families in the decade-long legal saga over concussions. The 2020 lawsuit unearthed the fact the dementia tests were being "race-normed" -- adjusted due to assumptions that Black people have a lower cognitive baseline score. Changes to the settlement made last year are meant to make the tests race-blind.
The new results will add millions to the NFL's payouts for concussion-linked brain injuries. A league spokesman did not return a phone call Friday or respond to emails sent in recent weeks seeking comment on the rescoring.
Of the 646 Black men whose tests were rescored, nearly half now qualify for dementia awards. Sixty-one are classified as having early to moderate dementia, with average awards topping $600,000; nearly 250 more have milder dementia and will get up to $35,000 in enhanced medical testing and treatment, according to the claims administrator's report.
Former players, lawyers and advocates say they'll now turn to getting the word out to more players who could receive awards.
"Our work has produced some great results and has opened many eyes," said Ken Jenkins, a former Washington player who, along with his wife, petitioned the federal judge overseeing the settlement to make the changes and urged the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division to investigate. "Now we're really focused on getting as many players who deserve compensation to be compensated."
This first group of players had the best chance of success because they otherwise passed the testing protocols and would have qualified if they were white. Thousands of other Black former players can ask to be rescored or retested, but their cases might not be as strong based on earlier results on dementia, validity and impairment tests. About 70 percent of active players and 60 percent of living retirees are Black.
The fact that the testing algorithm adjusted scores by race -- as a rough proxy for someone's socioeconomic background -- went unnoticed for several years until lawyers for former Steelers Kevin Henry and Najeh Davenport sued the league. Factors such as age, education and race have long been used in neurology to help diagnose dementia. But experts say the formula was never meant to be used to determine payouts in a legal case.
"In 2022, how can you possibly think that another human being comes out of the womb with less cognitive ability? It's just impossible to believe that that can be true," Jenkins said. "It's unspeakable."
Advocates fear that many former players don't know they can be rescored or retested, especially if they have cognitive issues and live alone.
"Men who are homeless, men who originally signed up but their cognitive function changed, men who are divorced or isolated -- we are going to go looking for them," said Amy Lewis, Jenkins' wife.
The couple, once critical of class counsel Chris Seeger for his response to the issue, now work with him to spread the word.
Seeger -- lead lawyer for the nearly 20,000 retired players, who negotiated the settlement with the NFL -- has apologized for initially failing to see the scope of the racial bias. He vowed in a recent interview to "make sure the NFL pays every nickel they should."
The league's tally just passed $1 billion in approved claims. However, appeals and audits mean actual payouts lag behind that number and now stand at about $916 million. Payouts include awards for four other compensable diagnoses: Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Lou Gehrig's disease and deaths before April 2015 involving CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
Copyright by The 2022 Associated Press