The NFL says it is adjusting its process for handling disability claims by players, in the wake of an explosive lawsuit over what critics said mounted to little more than systemic racism in the allocation of compensation for debilitating head injuries.
The league on Wednesday announced it would end the process of so-called 'race-norming' for disability payouts related to its landmark 2013 settlement case over head injuries, a practice which essentially allowed the league to deny benefits to Black players based on scientifically dubious assertions about differences in baseline cognitive function between races.
The reversal in policy, which comes after years of criticism and only months after the dismissal of an explosive class-action lawsuit led by former Pittsburgh Steelers players Najee Davenport and Kevin Henry claiming they have been unfairly denied benefits, would also require the league to review past claims for Black players, according to the Associated Press.
“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,” the NFL said in a statement issued Wednesday by spokesman Brian McCarthy.
Some of those angling for change in approach weren't so sure.
“Words are cheap," said former Washington running back Ken Jenkins, whose wife Amy Lewis led a petition drive on behalf of NFL veterans and their families that secured over 50,000 votes. "Let’s see what they do."
When the case was tossed in March, the judge overseeing the case made what the Associated Press called an unusual request when she asked the NFL for a report on the matter. The demographics of benefits cases are unknown, and critics fear the league will continue to keep them under lock unless otherwise compelled.