Lions coaches on NFL's use of 'race-norming' in brain injury claims: 'It's insulting'

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
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Earlier this week, the NFL pledged to end its use of "race-norming," a practice that assumed Black players started with a lower level of cognitive function, when assessing brain injury claims as part of a $1 billion settlement with former players from 2013. 

A judge overseeing the settlement originally threw out a civil suit claiming the discriminatory nature of the practice. That led to former running back Ken Jenkins and his wife, Amy Lewis, submitting 50,000 petitions demanding equal treatment of Black players last month.  

The scoring algorithm for dementia testing agreed upon in the original settlement included the lower starting cognitive scores for Black men, which had made it more difficult for Black players to qualify for awards under the deal. 

Lions offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn

The lead lawyer for the players in the negotiations, Christopher Seeger, previously stated there was no evidence of racial bias in the administration of the fund, but recently retracted that statement. 

“I am sorry for the pain this episode has caused Black former players and their families," Seeger said in a statement. "Ultimately, this settlement only works if former players believe in it, and my goal is to regain their trust and ensure the NFL is fully held to account."

Nearly $800 million of the $1 billion settlement has already been handed out. 

"We are committed to eliminating race-based norms in the program and more broadly in the neuropsychological community," the league said in a statement issued Wednesday by spokesman Brian McCarthy. "The parties to the settlement have been working with the magistrate judge and have assembled the leading members of the neuropsychological industry to help identify alternative testing techniques.

"Everyone agrees race-based norms should be replaced, but no off-the-shelf alternative exists and that's why these experts are working to solve this decades-old issue. The replacement norms will be applied prospectively and retrospectively for those players who otherwise would have qualified for an award but for the application of race-based norms."

Lions coaches Duce Staley and Anthony Lynn, both Black and former players, acknowledged limited time to study the issue because of their focus on work commitments, but expressed disappoint with the extra hurdles their peers have faced. 

"It's comical to me," Lynn said Thursday. "It's insulting. It's just another hole that we have to overcome, but it's nothing new. I think after the last year or so, some of the things that have gone down, we know we still have a ways to go. We've come a long way, but we still have a ways to go. From what I've heard so far, that was pretty insulting."

Staley also called the practice "insulting," but credited the league for making an effort to rectify the situation.

"Without it being corrected, you still have a problem," Staley said. "But now I guess they're coming out and saying, 'OK, this was wrong, this that and the other,' and they're correcting it. And that's what you want."

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

Associated Press contributed

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