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Deep AP reporting on NFL’s race-adjusted brain injury settlements

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Maryclaire Dale and Michelle Smith reported that thousands of retired Black professional football players, their families and supporters are demanding an end to the use of “race-norming,” a practice the NFL has insisted on using in the league’s $1 billion brain injury settlement. Black NFL players delivered some 50,000 petitions to a federal court to end the practice.

The algorithm used by the NFL assumes Black men start with lower cognitive skills. They must therefore score much lower than whites to show enough mental decline to win an award. The practice went unnoticed until 2018.

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Former NFL player Ken Jenkins holds thousands of petitions demanding equal treatment for everyone involved in the settlement of brain injury claims against the NFL, before delivering them to the federal courthouse in Philadelphia, May 14, 2021. – AP Photo / Matt Rourke

Dale, based in Philadelphia, and Smith, based in Providence, Rhode Island, recognized that the story extends far beyond sports and money, to discrimination and racial injustice. Their deeply reported story quotes neurology experts who said the practice, sometimes used in medicine as a rough proxy for socioeconomic factors that can affect a person’s health, should not be used in the settlement because it has the effect of systematically discriminating against Black players.

Among the people they spoke to was Ken Feinberg, who administered the 9/11 and Boston Marathon compensation funds, who said they took pains to treat everyone as a “white male” in those funds as a way to “cure” discrimination. Several experts also questioned how compensation was being determined more broadly.

The story, with photos by Philadelphia’s Matt Rourke, played widely; CBSN devoted eight minutes to the piece, calling it “a damning report.”

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