NFL Says it Will Halt Race-Norming

A practice that was questionable in origin, racist in practice, and astonishing in longevity is finally over. The NFL has committed to ending its use of the practice of race-norming in concussion cases. The decision comes after two former players filed a civil rights lawsuit over the practice. While the judge who presided over the case throughout the civil rights suit, a full report on the league’s practices in the domain was called for. 

What is Race-Norming

Race-norming is the race-based formula that assumes black players have  lower cognitive function than white players. The league had been using this thinking to assess the payouts it would give former players who filed for compensation because of sustained brain trauma. 

Under this methodology, that has been in use since the 1990s, the league would compare a given player’s cognitive test results with the supposed norm for his demographic group. In practice this meant that a black player seeking compensation under a concussion claim would need to display a greater level of cognitive decline than a white player to receive the same compensation. 

Former Washington player Ken Jenkins, who has been heavily involved with the legal process, called the practice “classic systemic racism” and added that “just because [he] is born black doesn’t mean [he] was born with fewer brain cells.”

How Did We Get Here?

As mentioned, this has been a league employed practice since the 1990s and was implemented based on a study conducted on a small group of San Diego adults. The league defended the practice by citing that the tests done during the San Diego study were “widely accepted results and scoring methodologies.”

It never dawned on anyone at the league office that this small sample size in San Diego did not adequately represent all black people. 

While the league has said that the practice was never mandatory and that the doctors brought in as part of the dementia and brain trauma program were never forced to employ the methodology, the same practitioners have said that there was no such flexibility indicated within the program’s manual. 

Now What?

The NFL’s commitment to ending the practice comes amidst an ambitious social justice campaign through which they have promised to donate $250 million over the next decade to causes related to social change, systemic issues, and the such. The decision to end the openly racist practice comes on the tail of a season in which we saw endzones adorned with messages like “End Racism” and players were allowed to make more public statements through their equipment. 

With more than half of NFL retirees being black, we should be examining the league with a microscope to make sure that their performative decorating does not become a smokescreen under which they uphold practices like race-norming.

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