Former NFL players ask the justice department to investigate the NFL concussion settlement for civil rights violations

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WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — A letter signed by more than 40 wives of former NFL players asks the Department of Justice to investigate whether the NFL’s concussion settlement may have violated some players’ civil rights.

Wednesday, Dr. Amy Lewis and her husband Ken Jenkins, a former NFL player, delivered a 6-page letter to the department’s civil rights division.

“I mean, this is serious stuff,” Lewis said. “The system they put together is inherently racist.”

Under the terms of the settlement, the NFL has applied “race norms,” a scoring algorithm that assumes Black men begin with lower cognitive skills and therefore have to score much lower than whites to show cognitive decline. It makes it harder for Blacks to qualify for an award. 

“The problem is this is David and Goliath,” Jenkins said of the fight so far. “And the NFL is Goliath and they are powerful and they’re smart and they are the system and they make the rules.”

In the letter, signed by over 40 wives of former NFL players, they call out the NFL, the class counsel, Chris Seeger, and the judge presiding over the settlement, Anita Brody.

They write that race norms were applied “purposefully and unconstitutionally to discriminate against Black players.”

NFL attorneys did not respond to a request for comment.

The NFL has acknowledged race-norming and pledged to stop going forward, but Lewis argued it should not excuse anyone left behind.

“Pearl clutching doesn’t cut it with me,” she said. “It is not good enough just to say, ‘Hey, we race normed. We’re so sorry. We didn’t mean it.’

“Players have been harmed here.”

In the letter, Lewis accuses the NFL and Seeger of colluding.

“Either Chris Seeger is wildly incompetent and did not know what he was doing, and therefore shouldn’t be representing the class, or he knew exactly what he was doing, exactly what he was agreeing to and threw Black players under the bus to save the NFL money,” she said.

Seeger, in a statement to NewsNation, called allegations of collusion “preposterous” and adds that he has been fighting a multiyear “slugfest with the NFL” on behalf of the players that has resulted in “nearly $1 billion in player benefits.”

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Lewis said they had an email showing the NFL and Seeger both asked doctors reviewing patients’ claims to include their raw data scores. That email from Brown Greer, the firm administering the settlement claims, was sent in November 2017. It would be another four years before the NFL and Seeger admitted that race norms were used. 

In their letter, the wives are asking for demographic data that the NFL has refused to release, even after four U.S. senators have asked how many white player claims were paid and how many Black player claims were paid.

“We need sunlight, we need transparency,” Lewis said. “We don’t have the power as individuals to shed that light, but certainly the Department of Justice does and they should. It’s time.”

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