Former NFL player takes league to court over denied concussion claim, says race was a factor

The Donlon Report

(NewsNation Now) — After attending Stanford, playing in the NFL was a dream come true for Amon Gordon. He spent nine years as a defensive lineman in the NFL, ending his career with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2012.

“God blessed me with certain talents, you know, to be able to move forward and progress and make a living,” Gordon said. “But at the same time in the same breath, it certainly does take a lot from you, too.”

He says he began to realize just how much it took out of him in 2013, when he had a panic attack out of the blue at a restaurant.

“He called me in the bathroom and he said, ‘I can not breathe, I just need you to come and get me. I cannot breathe. I need to go,’” said his wife, Roxy Gordon.

The panic attacks continued, and he saw a team of doctors and had an MRI. One day he called his wife crying on the phone one day to tell her his “brain is gone.”

“He goes, ‘there’s lesions all over my brain. It’s bleeding. It was bleeding when I was playing,’” Roxy said. “He goes, ‘I have so much damage.’”

Gordon was diagnosed with early-onset dementia.

“Every year since then has been downhill for his condition,” Roxy said. “I mean, sensitivity, light, attention span, just you name it. Forgetting to pick up our son from school, leaving the stove on after he’s done cooking.”

Dr. Mohammed Ahmed, a board certified neuropsychiatrist at the Kaizen Brain Center in San Diego, has been working with Gordon for over two years. Ahmed says in his judgement, Gordon has a traumatic brain injury and dementia which has worsened in the past three months. He says the outlook isn’t good for the former star.

Roxy says there’s “no doubt about it.”

“I’m watching a person that I knew and fell in love with who is changing and becoming a person that I don’t know anymore,” she said. “It’s just another huge layer of stress on our family. I mean, we shouldn’t have to fight this huge institution when it’s clear that this man has major cognitive damage.”

Attorney Chris Seeger, who negotiated a massive $1 billion concussion settlement on behalf of NFL players, said in 2017 that any player with a legitimate diagnosis by a “board certified legitimate doctor” prior to the settlement effective date would get paid.

Gordon submitted a claim for his share of the NFL concussion settlement, and was approved for a $1.5 million award in 2017. 

“All of a sudden he was audited and they want five years of medical records,” Roxy said.

The claims administrator audited his claim, and a team of doctors working for the claims administrator reviewed his claim and approved it. But then the NFL objected and filed an appeal.

Roxy wrote an impassioned letter to District Court Judge Anita Brody, who is overseeing this entire case, asking her to take a deeper look into it, but didn’t receive a response. 

A “special master” appointed by Judge Brody ultimately ruled in favor of the NFL stating that, “there is clear and convincing evidence” that Gordon’s diagnosis was not “generally consistent” with the qualifying diagnosis as defined in the settlement agreement.

But they did not identify what the “clear and convincing evidence” was.

“I don’t get it,” Amon said. “It’s not a game. It’s not a mystery. I have real physical data.”

Gordon objected and appealed to Judge Brody, but she denied the appeal, writing in her ruling that he was awarded money, “due to an error early in the claims process… despite the fact that he plainly did not meet the medical criteria for a qualifying diagnosis.”

But there is no explanation as to what the error in the claims process was, and what she refers to when she later writes, “the court is troubled by the events leading to this objection and has looked into the matter.”

The Gordons believe the error to which Brody refers is that race norms were not applied at first.

In June, the NFL said they would end the controversial practice of “race norming” cognitive tests, which “made it harder for black retirees to show a deficit and qualify for an award.”

In a statement to NewsNation, the NFL says it appealed Gordon’s case because his “cognitive test scores were well above the settlement agreement’s clear and objective score thresholds for the requisite neurocognitive impairment.“

But the Gordons say that’s because race norms were applied and his scores rose after they applied the “settlement algorithm.” 

“I believe that the NFL could care less if he has brain damage or not,” Roxy said. “For matter of fact, I don’t think they care about the large percentage of the players that are suffering from cognitive damage or what it’s doing to their families.”

So the Gordons appealed to a different court, the 3rd Circuit, in hopes of finding transparency and answers to why his claim has been denied.

“We’re trying to figure out what happened because we were never given a valid reason for denial,” Roxy Gordon said.

The 3rd Circuit canceled oral arguments in their case in June, and last week one of the judges just recused himself from the case, without comment.

“In my case, there’s some really strange occurrences that are happening,” Amon said. “I just don’t understand the opposition. If this settlement is generally created for us, why is there such opposition to help these players?”

NewsNation has asked Chris Seeger, class counsel, for the data on awards to tell who has been paid, and how many were white, and how many were Black. Seeger has not provided that information.

“I’m fighting because it’s not just about Amon and it’s not just about black men, retired players with brain damage. It’s about all of them with cognitive damage that played football and the NFL,” Roxy said. 

“I mean, I have friends, wives that are Black, white, Asian, and their husbands suffer from the same disease,” Roxy said. “I mean, there’s no color when it comes to brain damage. You know, it’s really not brain damage is brain damage. And what I would like to see is everybody treated fairly in this concussion settlement.”

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