Tuesday's NFL: Lawyers argue league concussion awards discriminate against Blacks

Associated Press

Philadelphia — Dementia tests in the NFL concussion litigation allow doctors to use different baseline standards for Black and white retired players, making it more difficult for Blacks to show injury and qualify for awards, lawyers for two ex-players argued in court filings Tuesday.

The settlement fund has so far paid about $720 million to retired players for neurocognitive problems linked to NFL concussions, including more than $300 million for dementia. The dementia claims have proven especially contentious — three-quarters of them have been denied, often after challenges from the NFL.

Lawyers for ex-players Najeh Davenport (44) and Kevin Henry said their clients were denied awards "based on a discriminatory testing regime" that weighs sociological factors including race. Both men would have qualified for awards had race not been considered, they said.

Lawyers for ex-players Kevin Henry and Najeh Davenport said their clients were denied awards “based on a discriminatory testing regime” that weighs demographic factors including race. Both men would have qualified for awards had race not been considered, they said.

“Black former players have been automatically assumed, through a statistical manipulation called ‘race-norming,’ to have started with worse cognitive functioning than White former players,” the lawyers wrote.

That makes it harder to show they’ve suffered a deficit and deserve compensation, they said.

“The use of a deliberate, explicit, racial classification — with Black and white former players automatically subjected to different standards — is a blatant violation of the law,” lawyer Cy Smith wrote in the motion, which seeks to make the tests race-neutral.

An NFL spokesman did not immediately return messages seeking comment Tuesday. Christopher Seeger, the lead players lawyer in the litigation, said he “has not seen any evidence of racial bias in the settlement program,” but pledged to review the issue.

He said the testing was designed by leading experts and approved by the presiding judge in the case, Senior U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody of Philadelphia. And he said it’s up to the evaluating physician to decide whether to include race as a factor.

Henry, 51, who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1993-2000, said his claim was denied although he suffers from headaches, depression and memory loss that leave him unable to hold a job.

Davenport, 41, who played for the Steelers, Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts from 2002-2008, said he suffered more than 10 concussions, including one that broke his eye socket and left him unconscious. He was approved for an award until the NFL appealed, asking that his test results be recalculated using racial norms, Smith said. By that measurement, his claim would fail.

The special master in the case has so far rejected the NFL’s appeal, but asked that Davenport’s doctor justify his findings.

The motion, along with a second potential class-action filing, asks Brody to bar race as a factor in the calculations, and let any Blacks tested in such a manner have their scores recalculated if their dementia claims were denied. The settlement pays up to $3 million for a moderate dementia finding, although the average dementia award, including both early and moderate dementia, is just under $600,000.

“The NFL has a choice to make, and the choice is between treating the lives of its Black players like they matter, or continuing with the current course,” Smith told The Associated Press.

The settlement, expected to cost the NFL more than $1 billion, spared the league a trial over claims that it long hid what it knew about the link between concussions and brain injuries. The settlement fund is designed to cover more than 20,000 retirees suffering from brain disorders that include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and dementia.

A website run by the claims administrator does not break down information on awards by race. Smith believes that racial disparities would be evident if it did.

The filing Tuesday comes as the NFL prepares for the Sept. 10 season opener. The league, which was in the middle of its offseason when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, still plans to play a full schedule, though many games will take place in empty stadiums.

'Super Scout' nominated for Hall

Bill Nunn, dubbed a “super scout” for the Pittsburgh Steelers for finding NFL talent at historically Black universities, has been nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a contributor.

Nunn was later the team’s assistant director of player personnel.

“You don’t know how much this means to us,” Nunn’s daughter, Lynell Wilson, said when told of the contributors committee vote by David Baker, president and CEO of the Hall of Fame.

Nunn was a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the most influential publications serving predominantly Black communities in the United States. His knowledge of players and coaches affiliated with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) led to a job with the Steelers that became a four decades-plus (1968-2013) second career.

Nunn is credited with helping build the Steelers’ championship teams of the 1970s, advising on the drafting of receiver John Stallworth from Alabama A&M, cornerback Mel Blount of Southern, and safety Donnie Shell of South Carolina State from HBCUs. All three of them have been voted into the hall.

Nunn also helped find another Hall of Famer from those great Steelers teams, linebacker Jack Lambert at Kent State.

Personnel dept.

Two-time Pro Bowl safety Budda Baker has agreed to terms on a $59 million, four-year contract extension with the Cardinals.

Baker’s agent David Mulugheta confirmed the terms and that $33.1 million is guaranteed, which makes him among the NFL’s highest-paid safeties.

... 49ers star edge rusher Nick Bosa and rookie receiver Brandon Aiyuk will both miss at least one week of practice with lower-body injuries.

... Browns rookie safety Grant Delpit ruptured his right Achilles tendon in practice and is out for the season, another injury and another blow to Cleveland’s defense.