Last August, two former Black NFL players, Kevin Henry and Najeh Davenport, filed a lawsuit in federal court in Philadelphia, claiming the league engaged in “race norming,” intentionally employing disparate standards to assess their cognitive function test scores than measures used for white players to reduce the likelihood they would be awarded benefits under a 2016 concussion settlement.
The groundbreaking settlement was a result of the now celebrated work of Dr. Bennet Omalu, whose autopsy in 2002 of Mike Webster, an offensive lineman who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas Chiefs from 1974 to 1990, revealed severe chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurologic condition associated with chronic head trauma. Webster, a four-time Super Bowl champion with the Steelers, died from a heart attack at age 50 in 2002.
The powerful NFL propaganda machine spent years and considerable resources attempting to discredit Dr. Omalu and his work, launching vicious ad hominem attacks in a failed effort to avoid financial accountability and damaging public relations.
According to the Official NFL Concussion Settlement Website, the settlement, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in December of 2016, has 20,557 registered settlement class members to date and has dispersed payouts of $836,122,543 as of this week. The amount of money allotted to each individual player was determined by several factors including their age and brain injury. Alzheimer’s, dementia and ALS are among the conditions from which NFL players were found to be suffering associated with chronic head trauma as concluded by extensive medical studies.
The lawsuit, filed by Davenport, 42, a running back who played for three teams in seven NFL seasons, and Henry, 52, a defensive lineman who spent all eight years of his career with the Steelers, asserts that Black players and white players who sustain an equal degree of neurocognitive damage are treated differently because by race- norming, Black players are viewed as inherently having lower cognitive functioning than their white counterparts. The consequence, as put forth by Davenport and Henry, is that Black players have a more difficult time proving a cognitive deficit than white players.
Some neurologists who have examined NFL players are on the record agreeing with Davenport and Henry that racism is indeed present in the evaluation process. However, on Monday, a federal judge dismissed Davenport’s and Henry’s lawsuit and ordered their lawyer and the NFL to resolve the issue through mediation.
“We are deeply concerned that the Court’s proposed solution is to order the very parties who created this discriminatory system to negotiate a fix,” said attorney Cyril V. Smith, who represents Henry and Davenport. “The class of Black former players whom we represent must have a seat at the table and a transparent process.”
In an interview with ABC News, Henry expressed that he is fundamentally seeking rightful equality. “I just want to be looked at the same way as a white guy,” he said. “We bust chops together, bro. We went out together and we played hard together. You know what I mean? It wasn’t a white or Black thing.”