NFL players call for end of scoring algorithm that presumes Black men have lower cognitive ability than White men

Muna Hassan

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The National Football League (NFL) is coming under fire for using a controversial “race-norming” algorithm when deciding which athletes are eligible to receive a payout for a brain injury claim.

The NFL has set aside a $1 billion settlement for such claims. Former players who have developed dementia or other diagnoses are eligible to receive an award.

The algorithm being scrutinized scores players based on their cognitive decline. However, according to the algorithm, Black men start with lower cognitive ability. Experts say this is not only discriminatory, but it also makes it more difficult for Black players to show enough cognitive decline to be eligible for a payout.

“My reaction was, ‘Well, here we go again,’” said former Washington running back Ken Jenkins. “It’s the same old nonsense for Black folks, to have to deal with some insidious, convoluted deals that are being made.”

While Jenkins, 60, has not experienced cognitive decline himself, he says he has friends who played in the NFL who have been affected.

Last week, Jenkins brought 50,000 petitions to Philadelphia Senior U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody, the judge overseeing the settlement, demanding equal practices for Black players.

Brody threw out a civil rights lawsuit in March that claimed the scoring algorithm was discriminatory. However, she requested that a magistrate judge create a report on the issue for further discussion. It is unknown when this report will be completed.

To date, approximately 1 in 4 of the more than 2,000 former players who have requested an award for a brain injury claim due to early to moderate dementia have been eligible under the scoring algorithm.

Of the $1 billion slated for claims, $800 million has been paid out. Lawyers for former Black players have requested race-related details about these payouts. This data has not yet been provided.

“We are investigating whether any claims have been impacted by a physician’s decision to apply such an adjustment. If we discover an adjustment has been inappropriately applied, I will fight for the rights of Black players to have those claims rescored,” said counsel Chris Seeger.

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Muna has been a journalist and fitness professional for more than 10 years. With degrees in exercise science and dietetics, Muna focuses on informing people about how to lead a healthier lifestyle. Muna is the owner of Body and Mind by Muna, an online gym for at-home workouts, as well as MuslimahFit, a fitness app for women.

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